Long Shot, 2019.
Directed by Jonathan Levine.
Starring Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, Lisa Kudrow, Paul Scheer, Kurt Braunohler, Randall Park, Claudia O’Doherty, Lil Yachty, Gabrielle Graham, Tristan D. Lalla, Aladeen Tawfeek, and Boyz II Men.
When Fred Flarsky reunites with his first crush, one of the most influential women in the world, Charlotte Field, he charms her. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter and sparks fly.
Seth Rogen as a political campaign speech punch-up writer delivers the amusing shenanigans one would expect, but Long Shot is more than broad humorous lowbrow humor thanks to Charlize Theron’s portrayal of fictional Secretary of State Charlotte Field and her massive ambitious undertaking to become the first female President of the United States, running on the platform of a strongly argued plan to save the environment. The specifics of the initiative aren’t explained or necessary beyond the buzz phrase of “bees, trees, and seas”, allowing director Jonathan Levine (responsible for such excellent romantic comedies as Warm Bodies and 50/50) and the screenwriting team of Liz Hannah (The Post, this time giving politics a very funny comedic spin) and Dan Sterling to lean into the gender politics of intelligent and hard-working women making their way up a ladder designed to break apart on them rung by rung.
Look, you’re going to get ridiculous sketches involving Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen’s journalist personality capable of lacing his editorials with profanity and substance) dressed up like a moron at a fancy international gathering interacting with powerful men of various countries, but some of the best moments are small dialogue exchanges with Charlotte regarding the do’s and don’ts of her speeches, which are basically things that a man would be able to get away with. And I don’t necessarily mean vulgarity, but simple human expressions like showing too much emotion or anger. In an age where male celebrities and politicians allegedly accused of horrific wrongdoings often find themselves breaking down with rage denying such claims while innocent women face far more scrutiny for the same things, it’s a timely touch making absolutely sure the speeches are airtight. Of course, that still doesn’t stop the extreme right from making stupid claims and inviting known male abusers on their talk shows to discuss the possibility of a woman president.
Even the obligatory Seth Rogen extended drug-laced segment turns itself around from initially feeling like a superfluous addition to the narrative, into a wholly unbelievable but smart riff on toxic masculinity between hostage negotiations and how, sometimes, peace and common ground can resolve an ugly situation. Unfortunately, the movie probably goes a little too far with this line of thinking, as a supporting character is revealed to be a Republican and that, admirably, society needs to stop judging one another. The problem is that Long Shot also features an idiotic former television star as America’s president (Bob Odenkirk) in what is clearly an alternate but still doomed reality where neo-Nazis still run wild. Now, I’m not going to be the one to make the case that all Republicans are evil, but this is a jolt that the movie doesn’t exactly handle with the required delicacy or seriousness. It comes across entirely insincere and as a means to not fully alienate members of that party throwing down money to see these beloved actors shine.
Elaborating on that, Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron truly do have dynamite chemistry here, with Seth imbuing Fred with the actor’s trademark self-deprecating putdowns. He’s not intimidated one bit by the fact that Charlotte runs circles around him in success and intelligence, but finds her so incredible that he genuinely does not feel worthy of her love (not a groundbreaking concept for the genre, but here it’s executed strongly, especially during a private dance scene where the camera pulls out into a different room filled with crowds of people dancing, all while keeping Fred and Charlotte in the shot). There are also some funny bits over the phone of his pal Lance played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. trying to loosen him up while instilling confidence.
Naturally, this becomes a major part of the film considering if Fred himself can’t buy into the idea of being together with Charlotte, neither will the general public. It’s a dynamic that could seriously harm her legitimate chances at becoming president (the obvious choice to maximize public affection but a less romantically fulfilling choice would be the extremely handsome Canadian Prime Minister played by Alexander Skarsgard). I’m also not sure there needs to be an entire side character (June Diane Raphael) to be antagonistic and remind us of this constantly, but it’s all another way Long Shot finds real things to say about relationships and love amid all of its ludicrous set-pieces.
Not to make this sound like a movie that is more about politics and feminism than flat-out comedy, as that material is loaded into Long Shot from beginning to end; it just simply touches on more important subjects than most mainstream comedies do, but there are times the script doesn’t go far enough. Motion capture phenomenon Andy Serkis plays a slimy businessman buying out small publications while persisting for a meeting with Charlotte, and for someone that’s the closest thing to a villain the movie has, at most he’s just a corrupt old white dude. It’s a bit of a letdown really considering the horrible things many men in power are doing that could have drawn inspiration.
In a way it doesn’t matter that much; Long Shot provides the juvenile brand of stoner comedy Seth Rogen fans have come to expect while Charlize Theron is game to join in on the antics. With Charlotte, she also gives the film an inspiring and progressive emotional center (even if the ending feels like a total copout) that propels Long Shot above similarly branded comedies. After an important speech, there is a bit where she stands her ground spitting out the words “don’t slut shame me”; only an actress of her caliber can transcend this joke machine into something with bursts of emotional resonance. Seth Rogen is no slouch and is definitely given one of the more complex characters of his career, but Charlize Theron is the heart and soul of the movie; she’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in movie form and a deserving president. Mainly though, Long Shot aims to please, and it’s targeting often finds the mark.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com