Romantic comedies live and die by the chemistry of its protagonists and Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen have plenty to spare in the Jonathan Levine-directed Long Shot. Opposites attract and both Theron and Rogen are the ultimate opposites. Theron and Rogen have each cultivated a unique on-screen persona: he, that of the cuddly, good-natured, somewhat immature teddy bear of a pothead; she, the sometimes icy, always elegant and fearless woman. But in the last decade, Rogen has shown a degree of gravitas in such films as Steve Jobs (2015) and Take this Waltz (2011) that other dramatic actors take for granted. And in the case of Theron, it’s easy to forget that the South African actress has shown her funny bone in films such as Woody Allen’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), and Jason Reitman’s Young Adult (2011) and the more recent Tully. But her performance in Long Shot is a wonder to behold: deceitfully straightforward and yet full of layers. Sparks may not immediately fly when their charactersfirst lay eyes on each other. But just look at the light in her eyes, that shy, almost teenage-ish smile, that glow, and you know that, outside of their top billing, these two are destined to be together no matter how many conventional plot complications the script throws their way.
Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, an investigative journalist for an independent online publication unafraid to call truth to power and to, as the film opens, infiltrate a white supremacist group even when he is Jewish. Fred resigns when his outlet is sold to a conservative media empire led by the Rupert Murdoch-like Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis hiding underneath pounds of deliberately grotesque make-up). Theron plays Charlotte Field, the current Secretary of State for the current President (Bob Odenkirk), a former TV star who sees the presidency as a stepping stone for film acting. Yes, Long Shot takes, ahem, potshots to the times we live in, but its political humor is not hard-hitting or one-sided. Long Shot lays its cards on the table for all to see while inviting the other side —whatever that other side may be— to join in the fun.
To lift his spirits up, Fred’s best friend Lance (a delightfully boisterous O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) takes him to a party where the hoi-poloi are gathered and Boyz II Men is performing, a party also attended by Charlotte who needs the visibility and the support of those attending for her eventual 2020 presidential run. Turns out that both Charlotte and Fred already knew each other: she was his babysitter way back when. Given that the latest market research revealed that she scored very low when it comes to having a sense of humor, Charlotte impulsively hires Fred as her speechwriter after having read his columns (not to mention having witnessed a very embarrassing, and viral, spill in the party). And so, along with aides Maggie (June Diane Raphael), who objects to Fred’s hiring, and Tom (Ravi Patel), the future lovebirds set off on a worldwide tour to promote Charlotte’s key environmental initiative and lay the groundwork for her presidential run.
Fred may, at first, seem like the prototypical shlub Rogen has played in the past but there is something different in his approach this time around. He brings to Fred a degree of tenderness, of maturity, and, most importantly, generosity. Fred is as jovial as any of the characters Rogen has played in the past, but he also has two feet firmly planted on the ground. Charlotte, on the other hand, may be tough, determined, but, in Theron’s hands, she is also warm, approachable (even in her haute couture wardrobe), qualities that some found lacking in another former Secretary of State running for president. It’s a sublime performance from an actress who keeps defying expectations.
Long Shot may address such issues as the compromises women candidates are forced to make in order to achieve their ultimate goals and may paint such characters as the hosts of a Fox and Friends-like show with a broad stroke. And these moments do provide some semblance of relevance to the romantic shenanigans. But the heart, the core, what makes us care about these two characters, is to see them become comfortable with each other, to see them introduce each other to their respective worlds and how they react when those worldviews collide with their most basic beliefs. I am still not sure we needed the Farrelly Brothers-like gag that drives the film’s climax (no pun intended). The script is already bawdy enough without it. And yes, this wouldn’t be a Seth Rogen-produced film without at least one sequence involving massive intakes of drugs and the one in Long Shot may make you wish that more politicians took more MDMA to bridge their differences.
And yet, there were times when I wish the comedy had been more mordant politically, that it had been more Dave and less Pretty Woman. That the obstacles to their romance were not as easily dismissable and resolvable. But how can anyone strive for satire in a world so absurd, so logic-defying, so tribal as the one we currently live in? Long Shot does what romantic comedies always do: it offers solace and gratification, the possibility that two socially and ideologically different beings can find love (or in the case of Lance and Fred, that ideological and religious differences shouldn’t stand in the way of a friendship). To watch the relationship between Fred and Charlotte evolve, to watch them find common ground, to watch them fall slowly in love…that is pleasurable enough. The rest is icing in the cake.