When we meet journalist Fred Flarsky (played by Seth Rogen), he’s undercover and attending a white supremacy meeting, to provide research for an article. Like everything else in his life, Fred does this with reckless abandon, proving himself a great writer but risk taking to the point of self destruction. This quality catches the eye of Secretary of State Charlotte Field (played by Charlize Theron), who hires Flarsky as a speechwriter for her developing presidential bid. The reason why Field has chosen a passionate but wildly unconventional writer like Flarsky for her staff: In addition to liking his profanity-laden pieces, Charlotte used to babysit Fred while she was in high school. Now, spending all of their time together on the campaign trail, Fred is falling hard for Charlotte, who is amused but practical about their working relationship.
As a satire of politics, Long Shot isn’t sharp; the jabs at modern day politicos are barely above “SNL” levels of obviousness. The humor is thoroughly crass, which sometimes undermines the potent moments when issues of gender equality and female empowerment take center. What really works here is the unique angle it takes at skewering the expectations of a contemporary love story. I won’t divulge whether the two leads play characters who wind up together. A far more interesting aspect is that the characters on screen (and the film itself) consider whether these two should be a couple in the first place.
In most cinematic love stories, the couples falling in love are obviously going to end up together and we’re never meant to question this. We should. I can’t begin to recall how many times a romantic comedy ended where two people walk off the screen together, the ending credits roll, and I say to myself: “I give them three months, tops.” Too many generic, safe and disposable rom-coms want you to dumbly walk away smiling without questioning if, for example, the insufferable main characters in Must Love Dogs should actually hook up (the answer: nope). Long Shot is aware of the romantic comedy formula and, in the last act, completely shreds the rule book. It’s refreshing to see something so progressive and yet so lowbrow funny at the same time. I liked what this film has to say about romance in general and I truly cared about what happens to Fred and Charlotte.
Theron is wonderful here, making the character quirky and lonely enough to be distinct, believable, and a surprisingly great match for her co-star. At first, Rogen seems to be on auto-pilot (not a bad thing if you’re a fan, which I am) but his performance and character take on a richness over the course of the film. The supporting cast adds pep to the proceedings but especially worthy of mention is the actor who plays a despicable media mogul: the performance by the heavily made up actor (whose name I’m withholding) is so impressive, I didn’t recognize him until the film was almost over.
There have been too many montages of a drug-hazed party in recent comedies but the one here, and the surprising way it extends to another scene, is worthwhile. So are the final scenes, in which the basic questions the story presents are answered and taken much further than most would expect.
Written by Dan Sterling (author of Rogen’s infamous and hilarious The Interview) and Liz Hannah (who wrote the Spielberg drama The Post), Long Shot will never join the ranks of the Will Ferrell vehicle The Campaign, but it’s just as crude and funny. That’s good enough, though I was hoping for a little more from director Jonathan Levine, whose Rogen-starring 50/50 is a career highlight for both. Still, Theron and Rogen are really special here. It’s rare that movies like this end and leave me still thinking about the characters, but Charlotte and Fred have stayed with me and so has Long Shot.
Rated R/125 min.
Photo courtesy IMDB