In an age where either big-budget franchises dominate film discussions, mid-budget comedies occupy a unique spot in the filmmaking landscape. While they can increase their exposure by casting famous actors, modern comedies rely on additional factors to boost audience interest. This could involve casting minorities in leading roles, using nostalgic imagery or making its characters as vulgar as possible. As it turns out, Long Shot distinguishes itself by blending timely political satire with a tried-and-true romantic comedy.
On the surface, bringing politics into a light-hearted rom-com is an unconventional choice. Under many circumstances, most filmmakers treat political satire with priority and passion. Meanwhile, they often treat the romantic comedy as a way to provide an unchallenging bit of fun for audiences. While director Jonathan Levine has blended genres before, this is his first time incorporating political figures to the central plot. They are such diametric opposites that it almost seems that Levine and screenwriters Dan Sterling & Liz Hannah are trying to put themselves in an unfavorable position.
Yet for all these roadblocks, the filmmakers overcome them due to how well its genre-blending mirrors the main narrative conflict. It certainly helps that Long Shot surrounds itself with a talented cast that can bring the story to life. Still, it manages to flourish on a higher level thanks to the many parallels between the story and the storytelling. If the writers are combining humor, romance, and politics, then a similar thing is occurring with our two main characters.
On one side, we have journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). His opinion pieces often reveal his cynical worldview and a total absence of an emotional filter. Furthermore, he is someone who heavily relies on drugs to achieve a state of happiness. On the other side, we have Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). She plays the politics game so much that she buries her true beliefs to appease people.
Although these two people met as children, Fred and Charlotte represent opposite sides of the human spectrum. As Charlotte seeks her chances of running for president, her interactions with Fred are unlikely yet highly satisfying. Due to Charlotte hiring Fred as her speechwriter, they find themselves in situations that bring out their intellect. But more importantly, these situations also bring intimate feelings that are slowly bubbling inside of them.
It is in the scenes with Fred and Charlotte where the romantic comedy aspect truly shines. Under Levine’s delicate direction, Rogen and Theron are fantastic scene partners that deftly handle both the goofy and sentimental scenes. In all fairness, Rogen playing the slacker archetype is so easy for him he can do it in his sleep. However, Fred cares so much for Charlotte as a person that Rogen adds a new layer to the stock characterization.
As for Theron, she exudes all the authority of being a Secretary of State without struggling one bit. Additionally, it is a delight to see her go against type and commit to the film’s wild comedy sequences. One notable scene requires her to “play the tough guy” in order to resolve a hostage situation, and the circumstances that bring her into the situation are arguably enough to make it one of the film’s highlights.
Not all of Long Shot exists as a showcase of easygoing interactions between charming, compelling characters. Before the two central figures even share the same frame, Sterling & Hannah’s script establishes itself as a biting examination of those associated with political power. In the first fifteen minutes, we see the President of the United States (Bob Odenkirk) wanting to leave office because he wants to pursue an acting career. As a matter of fact, his achievements as a television actor amuse him more than his achievements as a president.
In addition, we see news broadcasts for Charlotte’s campaign featuring commentary on how being a female president is such an unprecedented thing to see. In addition to these moments providing a negative insight towards heavily opinionated people, they line up rather closely with American politics in the 2010s. While the satire takes a backseat whenever the film embraces the romantic elements, it is nice that it retains some form of presence throughout.
This is not to say that Long Shot completely avoids moments of clumsiness, though. As much as the genre elements nicely mesh together on the level of plot, the filmmakers somewhat fall down on the level of tone. The film’s antagonist is Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), a cartoonish figure that buys out smaller companies for the sake of it. Admittedly, Serkis brings an admirable presence to the character. Nevertheless, Parker’s wild mannerisms bring what has largely been a grounded film to a halt. Every second he is onscreen, it feels like the movie shifts into self-parody since he such a goofy supporting player.
The second major issue is common across most romantic comedies: the boilerplate nature of the romantic arc. A side effect of rom-coms being light-hearted for most of their running time is that the final act requires lead characters to reach their lowest emotional point before they rise up for the ending. Much of the movie is spent presenting conventional ideas in an unconventional package. So for it to place the romantic section as its top priority in its final act feels like a betrayal to what has come before. Admittedly, the political edge and delightful comedy recover in its final fifteen minutes. But it is still a shame that Levine and the writers do nothing to freshen up this storytelling cliché.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Long Shot is a unique combination of crude humor, sincere romance, and a sly portrayal of modern American politics that also functions as a delightful star vehicle for both Rogen and Theron. Yes, zero of the individual elements are groundbreaking and some of them even detract from the overall experience. But Levine and company are dealing with such oddly shaped pieces that the act of playing with cliches is still impressive. There are plenty of opportunities for 2019 comedies to improve on this several times over, but it would not be a “worst-case scenario” at all if this becomes the comedic peak for the year. – Mark Tan
Long Shot is now available in theaters.
The film stars Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, and Andy Serkis.