By: BabyRuth (Two Beers) –
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Seth Rogen plays a man-child character who somehow gets a woman ridiculously out of his league…
On the surface, that’s the premise of Long Shot, the latest attempt to revive the rom-com, a once welcome escape turned dirty word, though thanks to recent updated takes on the genre like Crazy Rich Asians and Isn’t It Romantic?, is now circling back to a respectable movie-going option.
Charlotte Fields (Charlize Theron) is the poised and perfectly groomed US Secretary of State. After learning the president (Bob Odenkirk) is not planning to seek re-election to focus on his bigger plans to become a movie star, she sets her sights on the soon-to-be open position.
Fred Flarsky looks exactly like what you’d think someone with the name Fred Flarsky would look like. He looks like Seth Rogen. Fred is an idealistic, pot-smoking (shocker!), neckbearded, windbreaker-wearing journalist at an independent Brooklyn newspaper. The paper is purchased by a Wembley News, a right-wing organization headed by sleazy media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis in heavy makeup and prosthetics that reportedly took up to six hours a day to apply). Upon learning this news, Fred dramatically quits his job on principle.
His wealthy best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) attempts to cheer Fred up by inviting him to a fancy fundraiser. At first Fred is all “nah, I want to wallow,” but then Lance informs him that Boyz II Men are performing so he agrees. Because who turns that down? It’s there where he reconnects with his former babysitter, none other than, you guessed it, Charlotte Fields.
Yes, he wears the windbreaker to a black-tie event.
Charlotte eventually offers Fred a job as a writer to punch up her speeches to help with her “likability rating,” despite the apprehension of her advisers Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel). While working and traveling together, the unlikely pair form a bond that evolves from friendship into something more. But can it work long-term?
Superhuman Charlize Theron once again proves she can do absolutely anything. (It’s really just not fair.) She’s dabbled in comedy here and there, but this performance is unlike anything she’s ever done. She’s not just passably funny, she’s a freaking revelation. Her comic-timing is spot-on and she commits thoroughly to even the most ridiculous gags (in one scene that works much better than it has any right to, her character negotiates a hostage situation while high on Molly). At the same time, she is completely believable as a possible future President (can we vote her in for real right now?)
Seth Rogen has made a career of playing the same lovable, pothead schlub and this is yet another variation but once all the “can you believe she’s with HIM” stuff runs its course (thankfully early on) and the film focuses on the new couple facing the challenges of a relationship combined with that whole running for President thing, he gets to show a little more range and vulnerability than we usually get to see from him. On the other hand, let’s not forget that the reason he’s been able to make a career out of playing these characters is because he’s great at it.
Theron and Rogen have an easy, natural chemistry and it’s obvious they enjoy working together. They’re also completely believable as a couple to root for, which as the basis for this entire film, is a very good thing.
As great as the leads are, the supporting cast often steal the scene. Bob Odenkirk is hilarious as the dumb-as-rocks president. June (Juuunnne!) Diane Raphael is deadpan bitchy perfection as Charlotte’s no-nonsense adviser (keep an eye out for June’s husband and How Did This Get Made co-host Paul Scheer as a creepy Wembley News panelist). O’Shea Jackson, Jr. adds another promising credit to his growing resume. Alexander Skarsgard pops up as the dashing Canadian Prime Minister who appears to be the perfect match for Charlotte, at least in paparazzi photos. Andy Serkis is fantastic and barely recognizable as some gross Rupert Murdoch/ Steve Bannon/Roger Ailes hybrid. There’s also an early too-brief cameo by Lisa Kudrow.
Like Rogen’s character, the jokes occasionally fall flat, but when they connect, and they more than often do, it’s a whole lot of fun. (Note: The best joke is when you realize what the title is in reference to.)
Surprisingly for a political comedy, there’s not much political commentary. Not anything new anyway (the public is harder on women than men is not exactly groundbreaking stuff), but I personally found it refreshing that it was removed from America’s current nightmare situation, existing on an alternative plane, well, aside from the thinly-veiled (and well-deserved) digs at Fox News.
As a member of Generation X, aka the Forgotten Generation, I felt some warm nostalgic fuzzies from the 80s/90s references. There’s a whole sequence featuring a Boyz II Men performance, an Andrea Zuckerman/Kelly Taylor joke (that for some reason, at my screening, I was the only person who laughed out loud at-?), and a sweet slow dance to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love”—which you may recall from Pretty Woman. There’s also a scene set to “Then He Kissed Me” which has to be a nod to Adventures in Babysitting (Remember, Theron’s character used to babysit Rogen’s). The joke is that Charlotte was too busy with her education and career to keep up with pop culture, so she is stuck somewhere in the mid-90s. The film also feels of that time, an odd mash-up of Notting Hill, The American President, There’s Something About Mary, and, of course, Pretty Woman.
Maybe it’s due to writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah’s attempt to pay homage to all those other films that Long Shot often suffers from jarring tonal shifts. Maybe it’s the writers themselves as this film definitely plays out like the result of a collaboration between one of the writers of the The Post (Hannah) and the writer of The Interview who also wrote for South Park (Sterling). It’s kind of peanut butter and pickles. And sugar. And ketchup. Just as the film settles into sweet rom-com territory, it flips to raunchy gross-out comedy, then a serious dramatic moment, then some drug-humor, then slapstick, then back around to sappy sentiment. This kind of thing only works when seamlessly done, and unfortunately that is not the case here. The movie would have benefited if they had omitted some of the more “edgy” (in quotes because it comes off as more trying to be than actually being) gags.
Because of the conflicting humor, it’s never clear in what reality this movie takes place. Certainly, it’s in some type of heightened alternate universe, but there are often attempts to make it feel grounded, until something happens that shifts it into the completely absurd. While the film does a great job of endearing the characters to the audience, it makes it very difficult for the viewer to fully get comfortable in their world and enjoy them as much as we want to because we’re too busy trying to establish the setting. Still, the performances are strong enough to overcome the unevenness for the most part.
Long Shot hits way more than it misses thanks to a great cast, particularly Theron’s turn as a comedic force. Once you’re all Avenger’d out, it’s definitely worth a trip to the cinema.
Long Shot (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Frank falls down
Take a Drink: whenever Frank is inappropriately dressed for an occasion
Take a Drink: whenever a character makes a misogynistic remark about Charlotte.
Take a Drink: for every song from the 90s Take Two: if it is from a movie
Take a Drink: for every awkward laugh (shout-out to the actor who plays a young version of Rogen’s character who absolutely nails it, as well as Skarsgard)
Take a Drink: whenever a character mentions George Clooney and/or Woody Harrelson
Do a Shot: when you get the “long shot” joke. It’s a pretty great payoff.