Directed by Jonathan Levine | Written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah | 125 min | Netflix
Recently, on a talkshow, Charlize Theron described Seth Rogen as some kind of stoned genius. I believe Einstein was her point of comparison. I don’t know how clever the Canadian comedic actor, writer, and producer is, but as he has a knack for knowing what audiences want in their broad, mainstream comedies—Knocked Up, This Is The End, and The Disaster Artist are just some of the hit movies for which he’s partly responsible. Long Shot can comfortably join those works as a romantic comedy that works intermittently due to a dose of real chemistry between its leads.
It starts with Fred Flarsky (Rogen), a sartorially challenged journalist from a Brooklyn alt.weekly investigating a neo-Nazi group. He jumps out a second-storey window and bounces off a car to get away from the skinheads. That basically sets up the tone here: political discomfort spiked with slapstick and bro-y gags.
Flarsky quits his gig when the paper is bought by corporate, right-wing douchebag, Parker Wembley (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis), and when Flarsky’s best buddy, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr), takes him to a party, Flarsky runs into a woman who used to be his babysitter when they were kids, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who’s become the Secretary of State. She hires him to punch up some of her speeches as she prepares to take a run at the presidency on an environmental ticket. Her entourage, Maggie (June Diane Raphael, terrific) and Tom (Ravi Patel), aren’t particularly fond of Flarsky’s presence on Field’s world tour—including a visit to a weirdly mountainous Stockholm, Sweden. Naturally, the old friends get reacquainted and romance is sparked, despite the presence of a dashing Canadian Prime Minister, James Steward (a very Trudeau-esque Alexander Skarsgaard).
The biggest problem with a lot of these kinds of comedies is there’s so little effort to set in reality, so it’s hard to feel any sense of stakes. They skirt the line between the kind of broad, ribald situational comedy of, say, Mel Brooks—the jump out the window isn’t Flarsky’s only physical gag—and a satire of a world we actually recognize—a Fox News-esque morning show with its painfully sexist hosts, for example—but it won’t root itself for long in either. Theron is convincing as someone who has this important job. Mid-movie she has a wild night and does a fistful of molly, which works in a broad comedy, but then she has to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice for power, a conundrum from a different kind of picture.
I found myself chuckling at a lot of the political humour—Flarsky’s strident activist journalism slams into Field’s pragmatism—while the slapstick, Swedish traditional costumes, and body-function gags gets pretty tiresome. Semen in the hair is so 1998.
But what makes a romcom like this watchable—whatever the script issues—hinges on the central chemistry, and Theron and Rogen have a spark. They sell the idea of having been friendly as kids, which helps them feel comfortable with each other as they both struggle with the formality of international diplomacy. I just wish I believed in the world more, while at the same time Bob Odenkirk as a man who became president because he played one on TV is a little too close to reality for comfort.
One other thing worth discussing, and this has been a topic of conversation on social media around Long Shot: is it plausible that Seth Rogen would be someone Charlize Theron would ever consider attractive? There are more than a few movies where shlubby-but-funny dudes pair up with drop-dead gorgeous women. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn’t, but it sure would be nice to see the reverse once in awhile.