Updated: Feb 8, 2020
I have said before that, for me anyway, romantic comedies succeed almost solely based on the likability of its stars. If viewers can become invested in them, it is easy to root for their romance. The right casting makes that task far smoother. I like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. Rogen can be charming and funny, even if he mostly plays a variation on the same role. Theron is a very skilled actress who has the ability to perform in any genre, including satire, light comedy, physical comedy and raunchy comedy. They are the most important assets for the likable romantic comedy Long Shot, a mixture of each of those styles. It is so nice and funny it is easy to ignore the obviousness of the narrative. Yeah, I knew where it was going, but I had so much fun with it I did not care.
Fred Flarsky is an intensely opinionated journalist, recently unemployed. Charlotte Field is the Secretary of State, recently informed by the President that he is going to endorse her to be the next President. 25 years earlier, she was the babysitter Flarsky had a big crush on. After bumping into each other at a party, she hires him as her speechwriter. This gives them a chance to reconnect as friends and maybe something more.
Flarksy is a slight spin on Rogen’s usual character. As usual, he is fond of recreational drugs and constantly finds himself in uncomfortable situations. He is also driven by a passion for what he believes in and an attraction that brings him into the world of politics, something he has mainly contempt for. Rogen is appealing here and his arc is mostly plausible, for the genre. I guess I would call it a step toward a kinder, gentler Seth Rogen.
Theron teases playing the straight woman to his impulsive loudmouth, but Charlotte ends up with the larger, funnier and more transformative arc. She is a serious, motivated politician who is honestly convinced her policies can help make this world a better place. She is frustrated with political games, but willing to negotiate. After spending time with Flarsky, a man for whom compromise is a four-letter word, she rediscovers her passion, as well as her enjoyment of the smaller pleasures in life. Theron brings actual weight to this story, which makes the humor funnier and the emotions a little stronger. It is not the type of work people will focus on when doing a retrospective of her career in thirty years, but it is impressive nonetheless.
Long Shot (117 minutes without the end credits) also leans a surprising amount on political satire, yet it does not really do anything with it. It comments on the influence of outside parties on the process, politicians who care more about their self-interest than the people they are supposed to be serving, the extra challenges facing a woman in Charlotte’s position, tv news propaganda and the partisanship of a lot of citizens. There are jokes on all of this stuff. While some of it is amusing, in the end, it does not say anything about them. It is like they threw them in there to balance out all the sex gags.
Long Shot is a mashup of sweet romance, vulgarity and political satire. The third one does not totally work, but the first two make up for it. Director Jonathan Levine keeps the story moving, using humor to advance the plot, and showcases his talented cast as much as he can. In addition to the leads, great moments are given to June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s concerned chief-of-staff, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Flarsky’s loyal best friend and Bob Odenkirk as the oblivious President. They all deliver exactly when the movie needs them to. It is far from perfect, however I laughed a lot, liked the characters and just generally felt good watching it. That is what a successful romantic comedy is supposed to do; this one nails it.
3¾ out of 5
Charlize Theron as Charlotte Field
Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky
June Diane Raphael as Maggie Millikin
O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Lance
Ravi Patel as Tom
Bob Odenkirk as President Chambers
Alexander Skarsgård as Prime Minister James Steward
Andy Serkis as Parker Wembley
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah