7.5 out of 10
Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky
Charlize Theron as Secretary of State Charlotte Field
June Diane Raphael as Maggie Millikin
O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Lance
Ravi Patel as Tom
Andy Serkis as Parker Wembley
Bob Odenkirk as President Chambers
Alexander Skarsgård as Canadian Prime Minister James Steward
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Long Shot Review:
As political satire Long Shot is pretty light, but as romantic comedy it packs plenty of charm into a straight forward formula. That’s okay because it’s not particularly interested in politics or satire, that’s just a background for jamming the characters together. They might as well be airline pilots or chefs as far as anything they do really affects the characters; well, if a chef ever had to negotiate with terrorists for a hostage release. [I am now avidly awaiting the release of that movie]. What it is interested in is seeing how well its stars can mesh together and in that instance its lighter-than-air quality pushes Long Shot towards the stratosphere. Within sight of it, anyway.
There’s theoretically a bit more to it, feinting at the inversions of power dynamics in relationships but that’s window dressing for more standard meet-cute against the broadest of political stereotypes. Charlotte Field (Theron) is an amazingly over-qualified Secretary of State spoiling for a run at the presidency – and stuck in the cabinet of an idiot actor turned President still consumed with his TV star days (Odenkirk). She gets the chance she hoped for when he decides to forgo another campaign to return to Hollywood, or she would if she wasn’t a woman and a little wooden, and trying to appeal to an under educated electorate that doesn’t care about issues at all. Her attempts to lighten up are vastly helped by the sudden reappearance of Fred Flarsky (Rogen) in her life, her old next door neighbor grown into an uncompromising, super liberal journalist who happens to know her better than anyone in her very empty life. When he joins her staff as a speechwriter and pushes her to embrace the policies she most believes in, regardless of outcome, she finds not just the path to the presidency opening for her but maybe true love as well.
That’s one way to look at it. The other is that it’s more about the uncompromising and miserable Rogen meeting a woman far out of his league and slowly winning her over with his goofy charm before sabotaging said relationship by his refusal to change or accept compromise. Which is to say, most Seth Rogen romantic comedies. But if ain’t broke, etc., etc., and if Long Shot is proof of nothing else it’s that the formula works. The screenplay by Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) doesn’t stray too far beyond the lovable slob Rogen has played in a lot of his comedies and relies heavily on him having both believable chemistry with Theron and on Theron herself being capable foil in a genre she hasn’t spent much time in.
Fortunately they do and she is. If anything Theron is Long Shot’s secret weapon (which is a weird way to describe the film’s leading actress). Rogen is certainly funny, neither director Jonathan Levine (50/50) nor the material are pushing him out of his comfort zone, but the confidence with which Theron takes on Long Shot’s goofiest gags offers not just laughs but the surprise any good plot turn or punchline (and really they’re the same thing) needs to land. More importantly she’s able to embody both Charlotte’s confidence and capability and her credulity and naivety about the parts of life she’s never allowed herself without ever seeming contradictory or provoking mood whiplash. It’s no accident that the funniest part of the film isn’t one of Fred’s gags but Charlotte attempting to negotiate a hostage release while high on Molly after a night of partying for the first time. That’s Long Shot in microcosm — it would be fine with just Rogen or maybe even just Theron, but its magic with the both of them.
Whenever it strays beyond that it gets less funny, quickly. Which everyone making the film seems to sense as they keep all diversions from Charlotte and Fred to an absolute minimum. Because it can’t just be one liners for 120 minutes and then stop (though the Marx Brothers might argue otherwise) Long Shot does from time to time veer towards its supporting cast, primarily Charlotte’s snippy aides and Alexander Skarsgård’s goofy Prime Minister who lusts after Charlotte, but just as quickly veers away. Which is for the best as just a little of those bits goes a long way. Long Shot doesn’t have any desire to be more than it is, an efficient delivery system for Rogen and Theron’s chemistry and charm. Sure it’s light. That’s what makes it effervescent.