After “50/50” in 2011 and “The Night Before” in 2015, director Jonathan Levine partners up again with multi-talent Seth Rogen, maintaining a stable four-year rhythm. They are joined by Charlize Theron, and the chemistry between the two actors makes this movie stand out from the mass of generic romantic comedies. The world-premiere at SXSW was a huge success, and we can look forward to 2023, when the next Levine-Rogen collaboration is expected to entertain audiences.
Idealistic journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) gives everything for his job, even if it means getting a swastika tattoo while undercover with white supremacists. However, when he learns his employer — an edgy, Vice-like news magazine — got bought out by media mogul Peter Wembley (Andy Serkis as a younger version of Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch), Flarsky quits his job on the spot and goes on a bender with his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.).
Meanwhile, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), who is mostly famous for his role as POTUS in a TV show before taking the real office, wants to step up to be an actor in feature films next. He reveals to his Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) that he plans to endorse her as his successor. She celebrates at a private Boyz II Men concert, where she runs into the kid she used to babysit about 15 years ago: The now grown-up Fred Flarsky, on his wild night out!
Despite being intoxicated, he leaves a good impression. After realizing she needs more humor in her speeches, Charlotte hires him as a writer. However, Fred has a hard time hiding his long-time crush on his former babysitter, but she’s way out of his league — a literal “Long Shot.” But once the inevitable genre trope happens and the two fall for each other, they have to battle a lot of obstacles, from negative polls to an outright blackmailing attack on her. Will they have a chance to become the first female POTUS and First Gentleman?
Yes, the story is pretty generic and follows standard genre conventions, but the already mentioned chemistry of the main cast and the well-dosed humor that never hits below the waist make this a unique and highly entertaining comedy that will be the perfect early-summer date movie.
Seth Rogen is no stranger to romcoms, having had his first lead in “Knocked Up” from Judd Apatow, who discovered Rogen with “Freaks & Geeks” in the late ‘90s. Mostly known for his explicit comedies for adults, Rogen proves more and more what a versatile actor he has become since then, and he also often works behind the scenes as a producer, as he did here in “Long Shot.”
Charlize Theron is as gorgeous as always (except maybe “Monster”), and she easily fills the role, never leaving a doubt she is a skillful politician worthy of the highest office in America. But her character is not as a heartless careerist, which is why she is drawn to Flarsky in the first place — she is impressed by his idealism, passion, and honesty, something she doesn’t encounter a lot in Washington DC. Theron plays Charlotte as a human who wants to be loved, without giving up her ambitions.
This is where a good romantic comedy could have become a great one; if instead of just switching the power balance between men and women, the script from Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah would have explored modern relationships more deeply beyond the obvious jokes. When Charlotte opens up about her feelings, the script moves on to the funny aspects about when a presidential candidate is dating a drug-using hipster instead of the Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgård). Ultimately, it’s a comedy and not a character drama. It feels a little shallow at times, but it’s well balanced by Rogen’s hilarity.
The jokes are on point and the good actors make this reverse-Cinderella-story believable, that’s a good premise for a comedy. “Long Shot” may be not as wild as Rogen’s usual sujet, as this is his most mainstream movie so far. That doesn’t mean that he gives up his signature style but rather opens it up to a wider audience. Overall, this is a well-balanced modern romantic comedy, and if the applause at the world premiere in Austin is a good predictor, this movie will be a great success.
Long Shot (2019); Directed by Jonathan Levine; Screenplay by Dan Sterling, with Liz Hannah, Starring Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, Randall Park, Lisa Kudrow, Ravi Patel, June Diane Raphael; Cinematography by Yves Bélanger, Produced by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver, Beth Kono, Charlize Theron; 120 minutes; not yet rated