FILM REVIEW – LONG SHOT. With Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, Andy Serkis. Written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use. 125 minutes.
LONG SHOT must have been a very hard project to sell. The premise involves Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who serves as Secretary of State but has decided to run for President. Is she supposed to be Hillary Clinton? Well, no, but she is a strong, independent, and very capable woman who has to deal with a President (Bob Odenkirk) who seems a bizarre cross between Donald Trump and Martin Sheen: his claim to fame before being elected is that he played the President on a popular TV show.
Meanwhile Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), is a feisty and profane journalist who has just lost his job when his newspaper was bought by a right-wing media mogul (Andy Serkis). By chance he crosses paths with Charlotte with whom he has a history: she was – improbably – once his baby sitter upon whom he had a crush. Now she’s in need of a speech writer who can help energize her campaign. Over the objections of her advisors, she picks him.
At this point you may think you’ve had enough about politics given that we’re now in the midst of a presidential campaign that won’t culminate until the election of November 2020, but if so, you’d be missing the point. While there are some political jabs here and there, “Long Shot” is a romantic comedy, a genre Hollywood once handled with ease but which it has struggled with for the last several years.
Wait, a romantic comedy? With Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen?! It’s true. The notion of these two as a cinematic couple seems beyond bizarre and yet, somehow, it works. Amazingly, these two talented performers turn out to have an entirely unexpected on-screen chemistry. Give credit where it’s due not only to the actors but to the filmmakers, who don’t shy away from the notion that in a relationship between a national figure seeking the highest office in the land and an ink-stained wretch, it’s the former who will be the “alpha” in the relationship.
In the style of the classic romantic comedies, they each have something to learn from the other. She needs to be reminded that sometimes there are higher values than winning, while he needs the discipline and focus of a job where his juvenile behavior can have a devasting impact. As in his other roles, Rogen is funny and likeable even if his penchant for vulgar humor makes him someone you would not bring home to your mother. Unlike such actors as Adam Sandler and Melissa McCarthy, Rogen is able to demonstrate empathy for others. When his screw-ups adversely affect Charlotte’s campaign, he shows that it matters to him.
Theron has not had much chance to show her comedic skills on the big screen and proves to be a classy foil for Rogen’s earthiness. She shows how her character is so buttoned-down and controlled that she relishes the taste of freedom Rogen’s character offers. Yet she also has to demonstrate that her character has the gravitas necessary to seek the presidency.
“Long Shot” turns out to be a delightful surprise. At times it borders on the offensive (think “There’s Something About Mary”) yet it has a sweetness at its core that makes it all right. It’s almost enough to make one think the romantic comedy is not yet dead.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.