Being a sucker for romantic comedies there are a few staple “go-to” titles that I consider to be benchmarks for the genre; among them, Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally and Notting Hill. And so it is no surprise that Long Shot works very well when it is more or less a loose retooling of the latter, with flecks of the former two. Where Notting Hill saw Hugh Grant’s everyday-man bookseller fawning over Julia Robert’s Hollywood starlet, Long Shot has Seth Rogan’s unemployed journalist swooning over Charlize Theron’s secretary of state.
Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a left-winged journalist who writes aggressive political pieces for a popular alternative publication. When his newspaper is sold to a multinational media conglomerate, he quits and spends his first night of unemployment with his best friend, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr. – aka the son of Ice Cube). Lance is a successful businessman and takes Fred to a swanky party with the promise of meeting ‘90s pop group Boys II Men. The Government’s Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Theron), is also at the function and recognises Fred, who was once the kid she babysat as a teenager. They instantly bond and Charlotte hires Fred to be her speechwriter for her upcoming presidential campaign, much to the chagrin of her primary two staff members.
It goes without saying that, given this is a love story set amidst a political atmosphere, the narrative ebbs and flows from one plot device to another and the formulaic nature the rom-com means that Long Shot incredibly predictable. And that’s fine. After all, predictability is often the most valuable quality of the genre for moviegoers. What sets Long Shot apart is its understanding of the tropes, and its ability to tap into modern attitudes. It uses themes of gender equality and political indifference as a springboard for comedy, and for the most part it is incredibly funny, while also being surprisingly earnest.
Seth Rogen is excellent as the ill-tempered leftist whose personal ideologies hinder his ability to socialise and meet people. He also happens to be a sweet guy, whose insecurities stem from an embarrassing childhood experience with the woman he loves. Rogen has a presence about him that I enjoy. When his movies work, they’re hysterical, and when they don’t you can still rely on his endearing nature. He’s a buffoon and he exploits that fact so well, and in this instance he is met with his best match yet, Theron, who plays off his comedic style to perfection. Her character is tenacious and unwavering in her campaign to become President, and yet beneath the impenetrable exterior is a girl whose ideologies and insecurities are aligned with his. They share a natural rapport that gives their story credibility, and among the moments of lunacy and vulgarity are moments of tenderness that hit their mark without being schmaltzy or lame.
The supporting cast is very good, with Jackson Jr. being the movie’s biggest revelation. Until now most audiences will recognise him from his “thuggish” performances in Straight Outta Compton and Den of Thieves, but just like his old man, it turns out he has a natural flair for comedy. He gives a wonderful performance as Fred’s best friend and also bears the movie’s most pivotal and important moment… but I’ll leave that for you to discover. His onscreen presence is appealing and will hopefully be the first of many softer roles for him. The other supporting players include June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel as Charlotte’s personal staffers, Alexander Skarsgård as the Canadian Prime Minster, Andy Serkis as a media mogul and Bob Odenkirk as the President. All give good performances, with the notable exception of Odenkirk, who has found himself trapped in typecast and isn’t very good at all.
Where Long Shot falls short is when it presents caricatures of notable real life personalities. Odenkirk’s television-obsessed POTUS is an obvious ridicule of Donald Trump, and Andy Serkis’ media mogul is a weird take on Rupert Murdoch (made up in prosthetics as though he was channeling Barry Humphries’ Les Patterson), while Skarsgård is presenting a bizarre Justin Trudeau impersonation. Each and every one of these characters is unnecessary and distracting, and would be more suited to an episode of Saturday Night Live. Had they made these characters more ambiguous and less lampoonish, the political undertones and overriding narrative might have had a lot more sting in its tale.
Nevertheless, the shortcomings are easily overlooked thanks to some top-notch writing, astute direction and impressive lead performances. The screenwriters are Dan Sterling, whose credits include The Office (US) and The Interview, and Liz Hannah, who was Golden Globe nominated for co-writing Steven Spielberg’s The Post. Their collaboration on Long Shot proves to be a strong melding of comedy and politics and had they exercised restraint on the farcical components of the script, they would be worthy of award nominations for this one, too.
Director Jonathan Levine comes to the film with an impressive resume of titles to his name, such as The Wackness, Warm Bodies and The Night Before, and directs with authority. Perhaps, as suggested earlier, if he had pandered less to the polarising social media attitudes and volatile political persuasions, he might have delivered his film with much greater impact.
Long Shot will please most rom-com fans with its charm and whimsical frivolity. It will also please most of Rogen’s long-serving fans that relish his more unsavoury moments. And it will also – for better or for worse – divide those with strong political leanings. Some will find it off putting and will rebuke the final act’s sentiment, while others will become disinterested by the mockery of their own ideals. If you are aware of this coming in to the film then I urge you to focus on the romance, because it’s a wonderful one… and it’s very funny.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘Long Shot’ opens in Australian cinemas on May 2 and hits US cinemas on May 3.