Long Shot (2019)
Feel Something Different
The schlubby dude/ hot girl dynamic has been explored countless times in cinema and sitcoms. Hell, Seth Rogen, who stars here as leftie-journo-turned-political-speechwriter Fred Flarsky, pretty much defined the trope for the current generation with 2007’s Knocked Up. Here, in his third collaboration with director Jonathan Levine following 2011’s 50/50 and 2015’s The Night Before, he sets his sights considerably higher than that film’s Katherine Heigl: his romantic partner this time out is the Secretary of State and Presidential hopeful Charlotte Field, played by the formidable Charlize Theron.
For his part, Freddy’s had a crush on Charlotte since she used to babysit him when he was 13 years old. For her, she needs to boost her perceived sense of humor before taking a tilt at the big job after the current president (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, having a ball), a former TV star, deciding to forego a second term in favor of breaking into the movies. A chance meeting at a charity fundraising event puts them together and, as Freddy joins Charlotte’s team to spice up her speeches on the campaign trail, a romance is kindled.
It’s a romance with terrible optics, of course; Freddy is a bullheaded, drug-taking manchild — a Seth Rogen character, in other words — and Charlotte is a polished and poised career politician. Staffer Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael, one of the film’s comedic MVPs) takes pains to point out what a terrible match they are — it’d be better for her public image if she’d date someone like Alexander Skarsgård’s Canadian Prime Minister James Steward, for instance — and the road to happiness is further obstructed by Freddy’s distaste for the compromises inherent in political horsetrading. Still, this is a rom-com, and our ultimate destination is never in any doubt — it’s all in how we get there.
And really, Long Shot is an excellent rom-com: smart, progressive, drug-friendly (it’s a Seth Rogen joint), kink-positive (Freddy is surprised by some of Charlotte’s sexual preferences), and howlingly funny. There’s also, crucially, palpable chemistry between the two leads — an easy interplay that makes you believe that yes, in the moment at least, these two share a strong enough connection for their love to make sense. Importantly, it’s not just Rogen generating the laughs and Theron looking fabulous, but they both get their share of comedy, and a sequence where Charlotte, coming down hard after a drugged-up night clubbing with Freddie, must negotiate a thorny diplomatic hostage situation, is the film’s standout comedic set piece.
The film’s stated politics are a bit centrist for my personal tastes, though. We never actually find out if Charlotte is a creature of the Dems or the GOP (although her environmental platform suggests the former), and at one point Freddy’s supportive best friend, Lance (the ever-watchable O’Shea Jackson Jr.) delivers a fairly on the nose ‘why can’t we all just get along’ speech that nimbly sidesteps the multitude of sins committed by the current administration; this, however, is balanced by some solid in-narrative feminist and progressive values. Essentially, Freddy’s journey is to learn to be supportive of his more successful ladylove, which is pretty unusual for a film of this stripe.
As my friend and colleague Grant Watson observed, Long Shot is much better on the screen than it ever sounds on paper — all the hyperbole and praise in the world isn’t going to get you into a cinema if the phrase ‘romantic comedy’ immediately dims your enthusiasm. This is, however, one of the best examples of the form: charming, romantic, blisteringly funny, uplifting, the whole shebang. Make time for it.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Travis Johnson