The title Long Shot is appropriate for Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s new romantic comedy because theoretically, it shouldn’t work as well as it does. First of all, politics and romance rarely make good bedfellows; and does anybody really want to see Seth Rogen as a loser who fails upwards into the arms of a woman well beyond his weight class? It’s a monumental lift but Rogen and Theron, in particular the latter in one of her rare purely comedic outings, make this a film more than worthy of your vote.
Directed by the ever-reliable Jonathan Levine, Long Shot invests a surprising amount of emotion into building the relationship between muckraking journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) and poised Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Theron). When we first meet Fred he’s infiltrated a neo-Nazi group only to get hilariously outed as a Jew. That ends badly, and things only get worse when Fred’s alternative-newspaper gets bought out by a corporate conglomerate (run by an unrecognizable Andy Serkis doing his best Rupert Murdoch) and he basically talks himself out of a job.
Fred’s impulsiveness is matched only by the hyper-composed Charlotte, who as Secretary of State is one of the most powerful people in the world but all anybody seems to care about is who she is dating. When the Trump-esque POTUS (Bob Odenkirk) reveals that he plans to quit politics and pursue acting, Charlotte considers a run for the office, only to discover that her likability ratings are sorta in the toilet and they’ll need to be massaged if she’s going to be a real contender.
It’s impossible not to look at Charlotte and hear echoes of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign when she faced a litany of sexist expectations, ranging from her age to her fashion sense to her hairdo. While this accomplished, powerful woman must remake herself to be accepted as a serious political candidate there’s a bozo in the office who thinks everything is a TV show. But attempt to change Charlotte does, and part of that is being more spontaneous which is how she comes to hiring Fred, who she used to babysit for as a teenager, to be her new speechwriter.
This all happens after a crazy chance encounter at a party featuring a performance by Boyz II Men, and where Fred shamelessly ridiculous the affluent capitalists in the room before faceplanting off the steps. In reality, Fred is such a public embarrassment no real presidential candidate would go within 100 miles of him. Nor would they hire someone whose inflammatory rhetoric would be treated like a political kickball on cable news. But we can put that aside because of the genuine spark between Charlotte and Fred. Screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah (who co-wrote The Post so she knows political insiderism) don’t make their union as inevitable as we know it to be. There’s quite a bit of time establishing their dynamic. Both Charlotte and Fred are strong and forceful, but only she helps lead an entire nation. They find a common bond in the strength of their ideals, and grow close over fondness for a time when their lives were much simpler. The occasional life-or-death situation (being stuck in a literal warzone!) doesn’t hurt, either. By the time they do finally have their moment together, we’re ready for it and want it to happen.
Of course, too careful an examination of its politics would defeat the purpose. First of all, no presidential hopeful would bring her neon windbreaker-clad speechwriter to as many public functions as Charlotte does. That’s just ridiculous. Some heavy-handed moralizing about judging others based on political ideology (embodied by O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred’s entrepreneur buddy Lance) comes out of nowhere and doesn’t add much to the movie’s core themes. But I did like the film’s most persistent gag which is the many ways a Fox & Friends-esque show can find to insult Charlotte’s appearance each day. It’s funny because of how much it resembles reality. Long Shot is at its best when taken as a classic star-driven romantic comedy which doesn’t deviate too far from the mold. Rogen has improved as an actor tremendously since Knocked Up, and Theron is more than his equal. We’ve seen her be funny before but not since A Million Ways to Die in the West has she been given this much to do in a comedy and I hope it’s something we see more of.
Long Shot doesn’t seek to offend as much as it seeks to charm both sides of the political aisle. With Rogen and Theron as irresistible as they have ever been, this could be exactly what is needed during these divisive times.