“This is always a uniformly entertaining film, but when it shows that it can reach so much higher than that, it’s hard not to be left wanting when those moments seem so relatively unrepresentative.”
by Ken Bakely
Under the high concept of Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot, there’s a tried and true romantic comedy formula – childhood friends reuniting in adulthood and growing close, despite their different paths in life – that the film has an admirable level of knowing respect for. We as audiences still value that essential idea, and the movie does, too: after a point, it just so happens that said old friends, Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), are, respectively, an investigative journalist and the U.S. secretary of state. Charlotte is preparing a presidential campaign, and, confronted with the extra scrutiny applied to the perceived “likability” of female candidates, hires the sardonic Fred as a speechwriter who can punch up her speeches with jokes and various lighthearted anecdotes. Fred’s sardonic and laid-back lifestyle clashes with Charlotte’s no-nonsense pragmatism, and their conflicting personalities, as they try to connect, leads to most of the film’s comedy: from her desire to go clubbing and try ecstasy leading to her having to later negotiate a hostage situation while still very much high, to her ordeal with working with her advisors’ disapproval of their eventual romance (they see Fred as a liability to her popularity).
Meanwhile, as Charlotte attempts to seal the deal on a sweeping climate treaty opposed by corporate donors and key portions of the political establishment alike, her willingness to jettison multiple provisions of it, for the sake of keeping the powers that be at bay, again differs with Fred’s idealism, opening another rift for the consequences of this most unlikely pairing to play out on the global geopolitical stage. Long Shot drifts in and out with how this setup does or does not affect said surroundings, leaving it as an amicable but largely forgettable experience. Individual jokes and scenes play well, but often to little meaningful effect, and attempts to outline Charlotte and Fred’s relationship in greater, defining detail fall flat. What does work is the chemistry between Theron and Rogen, who play off each other with admirable timing and skill. Theron, who has been given relatively few chances to do outright comedy in recent years, is wonderful as the focused Charlotte, whose underlying desires to at least have a chance at a more normal life – something one assumes is not uncommon among high profile public figures – is never far from the consummate professionalism that the film has genuine respect for. Rogen stays relatively close to the kind of character he’s known for playing, but he’s never at a loss to find new opportunities to ways to work in new environments.
These irresistible positive traits considered, it becomes all the more disappointing that Long Shot’s finale is little more than a series of contracted physical gags than anything more complex and substantive, but even when Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah’s script is at its most reductive, there’s always a clear understanding of everything from rom-com formula to the finer points of character dynamics bubbling under the surface. On one hand, there’s surely a sharper and more perceptive version of this movie to be had; one that dives more deeply into the challenges faced by Charlotte in her own political career (the election itself is largely ignored, and the film’s plot essentially ends as she announces her presidential candidacy), one that is more about these characters that simply one that uses them as a way to deliver jokes, and one that is a little better at streamlining its scattered story structure into something more precise and cohesive. We’re never at a loss for something to laugh at, and we do come to like Charlotte and Fred’s chemistry as they come to like each other, but one would hope for something a bit more than the minimum levels of genre plotting for an idea otherwise quite ambitious. This is always a uniformly entertaining film, but when it shows that it can reach so much higher than that, it’s hard not to be left wanting when those moments seem so relatively unrepresentative.