Synopsis – When Fred Flarsky reunites with his first crush, one of the most influential women in the world, Charlotte Field, he charms her. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter and sparks fly.
My Take – While summer season is a time for blockbusters to showcase themselves, a bunch of romantic comedies often also find themselves releasing between the mixes. At first look, this is a lovely and very funny opposites attract rom com that plays a bit like Seth Rogen‘s own Knocked Up mixed a somewhat gendered flipped version of Pretty Woman.
As the tagline for the film states that the romantic pairing of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron is “unlikely but not impossible”, director Jonathan Levine’s crowd-pleasing comedy manages to organically project an intimate union between the two, utilizing the duo’s charm and comedic flair to their fullest potential. Here, Theron and Rogen share a natural easy chemistry, most of the gags land gleefully and moreover the film manages to be romantic in a political setting, which is very surprising.
More often than not, political humor stumbles, particularly at a mainstream level. It’s like setting films within the Hollywood system; they’re either too contrived or too farcical, their tongues poking holes through their rosy red cheeks. What’s even more dicey is tossing romance into the mix, namely because Washington is the last place anyone would look for love, especially nowadays.
However, against all odds, screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah along with director Levine (50/50, The Night Before) manage to transcend their political views into a stoner comedy in a concept destined to be a recipe for success.
Needless to say, if swearing and drug references are things you find objectionable, this is one to miss. Nevertheless, this one is a major win for director Levine, as the film arrives at a time when the genre couldn’t feel more deflated, thankfully, it is sexy, it’s funny, it’s smart, it’s topical, and, above all, it’s exactly what some people need right now.
The story follows Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a left-leaning investigative journalist who writes for a Vice-like publication, exposing truths in ways that corporate interests don’t want. However, when his agitprop publication is absorbed into a larger media conglomerate run by its sleazy CEO Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), he quits.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), the competent, justifiably ambitious current Secretary of State finds out that President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), the President of the United States and a former television actor, is not going to run for re-election, but instead is going to try his hand in films. Considering this as her best chance to make her play for the 2020 presidency, she successfully manages to maneuver the situation to receive his endorsement to run as his successor.
However, a chance meeting at an elite party, courtesy of Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Fred’s best friend, has the pair cross paths and it only takes a few a minutes for the two to connect and make the realization that they went to high school together. Fred had a crush on Charlotte, who had big, beautiful ideas about making the school a better place when she ran for student body president, while Charlotte remembers him as the smart, sweet kid who lived next door.
Upon going through his articles, Charlotte goes against the cautioned judgment of her campaign team and hires Fred as her speech writer, and immediately the two, along with the rest of her team, embark on a round-the-world tour, touting Charlotte’s environment initiative, a flowery sounding vision that’s to be the anchor of her campaign. From there on, it’s easy to see where this story is headed.
Charlotte and Fred grow closer, as he interviews her to get a better handle on her voice for the speeches he crafts. They butt heads, they disagree. He calls her out for compromising on her beliefs when a country negotiates changes to the initiative, she tells him he is out of line and to remember that at the end of the day, she is his boss and that sometimes you have to play the game to win the game.
As improbable as that premise sounds, the film manages to pull it off with plenty of laughs and no small amount of heart. If you have seen director Levine’s earlier work, you he has quite a talent at crafting offbeat and interesting rom coms. He keeps the tone light, and balances the various needs of the screenplay quite well.
Running at 125 minutes, it’s easy to accuse the film of overstaying its welcome, but even with its somewhat bloated running time the film is undoubtedly the years funniest offering yet. There’s an emotional intelligence, a sensitivity to director Levine’s approach to his comedies; he knows best how to use Rogen’s natural instincts for comedy while bringing out that pathos that makes Rogen so fascinating in the right hands.
As much as the film is selling itself as a rom com of sorts though, the Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah penned script succeeds as a workplace laughter in the lead-up to the inevitable romantic union, treating the characters of Fred and Charlotte as real people. The situation is far-fetched but there’s sincerity in their actions, and the film doesn’t favor one character over the other, allowing us to understand their respective motivations even when their behavior is questionable.
Here, director Levine works damn hard to earn these snapshots, layering the couple’s near-episodic exploits with rare moments of solidarity. In fact, some of the film’s most powerful sequences are the furthest away from the laughs and the hubbub, whether it’s Fred enjoying an early morning at the beach set to Frank Ocean or Charlotte wrestling with her thoughts in transit or alone at home.
But then the film goes deeper than that, and while it appears to be a lighthearted popcorn flick with an edge, there’s a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) messages bubbling below and on the surface. The unfair treatment of women by the media, the shallow game politics has become, the necessity of standing by one’s beliefs while recognizing when we need to set differences aside to actually accomplish things, and an encouragement to men to support the women in their lives, even if she is more successful than them. Especially when she is more successful than her them.
The film has Fred and Charlotte embody two poles of the ongoing ideological clash in Democratic circles between ideological purity and electoral practicality. The dramatic tension between them around these points is handled fairly; moreover the film has them meet half way in the battle. The relationship’s blocks between them makes the political context more than window dressing. The film is deft political satire as well.
There are also messages about being true to yourself, figuring who “yourself” really is, seeing things from the opposing perspective, and most prevalent: picking your battles.
However, there are few things that according to me didn’t work, for example Alexander Skarsgård felt more odd than funny in the small role of Canadian PM James Steward, while Andy Serkis is also unrecognizable and dully unpleasant as Parker Wenbley, a grotesque, blackmail-friendly media tyrant, whose role feels very gratuitous to the ongoing proceedings.
However, the reason the film is so likable, is due to the genuine chemistry between Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. Theron is an actress who can seemingly do no wrong, here offers a crackerjack chemistry with Rogen while standing out in her own standalone comic scenes. While Rogen’s the funnyman of the equation, but even his wisecracks can’t hold a candle to a late-film scene where Charlotte has to suddenly negotiate the return of a captured American soldier while rolling Molly hard.
In supporting roles, O’Shea Jackson is hilarious! He and June Diane Raphael both play the expected close friend archetypes for Rogen and Theron, respectively, but they actually feel like a part of their world as opposed to rudimentary appendages. Jackson oozes with contagious charisma, while Raphael couldn’t be more biting with her humor, and both add a great deal of thematic weight to the film.
Ravi Patel also adds enough comic touch, so does Bob Odenkirk as the parody of the aforementioned president. Randall Park and Lisa Kudrow have noticeable cameos. On the whole, ‘Long Shot’ is an absolutely hilarious film which tackles political differences in an entertaining and delightful manner.
Directed – Jonathan Levine
Rated – R
Run Time – 125 minutes