LONG SHOT: Duo featured

Earlier this month Charlize Theron, star of LONG SHOT, revealed to the world that she struggles finding anyone to date her. No one has stepped up to ask her out in some time, evidently. She can be intimidating, after all: gorgeous, smart, talented, with comedic and dramatic skills in equal measure.

Thankfully, LONG SHOT, a fictional film, has no need to play by our reality’s rules. Thus, despite Theron’s character being gorgeous, incredibly smart, driven, talented, thoughtful, the Secretary of State, and on the precipice of running for President, Seth Rogen still is not too intimidated to crush on her.

But does that crush make for a good movie?

LONG SHOT: Charlotte Field
Charlize Theron meets our gaze across the room in a moment from LONG SHOT. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

The Idea Behind LONG SHOT

Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State, has just returned to the United States to hear from President Chambers himself (Bob Odenkirk) that he will not run for a second term so he can focus on his feature film acting career. He wants to endorse Field as his handpicked protégé and she cannot wait to accept.

Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), on the other hand, has spent the day losing his job. He learns his employer, an independent Brooklyn-based periodical, has been bought by Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, barely recognizable under makeup, facial prosthetics, and a wispy white wig). Wembley is a Murdoch-type and Flarsky cannot stomach working for him. Thus, he quits ineffectually and stomps off. His best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) tries to cheer him up with some day drinking, a visit to the park, and a drop-in on a fundraiser featuring the smooth styles of Boys II Men.

There Field meets Flarsky and we learn that, years ago, she babysat a teen Fred. He crushed on her hard, shared an awkward kiss followed by an incredibly awkward physical reaction on his part, and has not seen her since.

Nonetheless, after realizing who he is, she has her Chief of Staff, Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael), and scheduler, Tom (Ravi Patel), hire Flarsky to punch up her scripts in the weeks leading to her planned resignation and announcement of running for President.

Speeches get written, feelings develop, and barriers threaten to derail the fledgling romance.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Seth Rogen study the party in a scene from LONG SHOT. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Writing LONG SHOT

Liz Hannah, the screenwriter of THE POST, and Dan Sterling, who wrote the Rogen and James Franco go to North Korea comedy THE INTERVIEW, do not seem like natural collaborators on paper. Nonetheless, they have combined on a rather smart and strong romantic comedy script.

Despite the trailers making it seem like this a “isn’t it funny this slob is getting the girl” narrative, most of that comes from the shallow world outside. The movie makes it clear that what actually makes them unlikely partners concerns their views of the world. Flarsky cannot compromise to save his life and thus he keeps derailing himself. Field feels like she has to compromise all the time to get to her goals and thus the goals never feel as good or matter as much as she would like.

Some will undoubtedly bristle at the script’s treatment of politics, however. There is a decent amount of “don’t hate someone of a different political persuasion than you” and pragmatism. The latter might be a bit undermined by the ending. The former, complete with a lovable character declaring their Republicanism and that our liberal lead is just too judgmental, does feel like the movie planting their flag on an idea.

The moment, regardless of your feelings on bipartisanship, does feel groan-worthy when it arrives. The script, however, is deft enough to quickly move the scene to funnier ground. That is, Flarsky’s reaction to a character also being a Christian. His utter disbelief and panic at the thought of being friends with a follower of Christ is a golden zing in what could have been a pretty dull cliched scene.

LONG SHOT: It's like we was dancing
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron cut a rug in LONG SHOT. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Casting the Leads of LONG SHOT

Rogen has a certain talent for playing a romantic lead despite how much Hollywood seems to want to remind us he is not movie star thin. I like what he brings to Flarsky here in contrast to, say, his KNOCKED UP man child. Rogen makes the character genuinely decent and largely competent. However, he cannot see beyond himself and, as a result, frequently ends up mismanaging situations. It is how he can write a killer speech and still not think that wearing his windbreaker to an international summit might be an issue.

Theron, as alluded to above, can hit damn near any mark you put in front of her. Playing Field proves to be no exception. She makes Field feel real and rounded. This kind of incredible character can be easy to either make too perfect or too stodgy but she avoids both. At one point, she and Rogen are watching a Marvel movie (in Russian no less, because Field can speak it) and her reaction to a betrayal is so delightfully authentic.

Of course, this being a romantic comedy, chemistry is key. The fact is, Theron and Rogen have it.

LONG SHOT: Fred Flarsky
Seth Rogen likes what he sees in LONG SHOT. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

Casting The Rest of the Callsheet

As with so many comedies as of late, the supporting cast is just killer. June Diane Raphael is a very smart actor who I do not think has had a ton of opportunities to really show that off. In LONG SHOT, she is wonderfully mean-spirited while still being obviously in her boss’s corner. It is a good bit of tight rope walking.

Jackson gets his first real comedy role here and it proves good casting. He has great energy. The sort of matter-of-fact way he moves through the world gets laughs with almost no effort. I cannot imagine how his Lance and Rogen’s Fred ever met, nevermind became friends. Their interactions, though, sell the relationship.

Alexander Skarsgård as the Canadian Prime Minister utilizes his otherworldly attractiveness to trojan horse in a character that becomes increasingly odd and discomforting with each encounter. His discussion of his laugh as a political liability to a mostly unresponsive Field is a very small bit of work but hits wonderfully for the subtle but unnerving ways Skarsgård shifts his features to demonstrate his politically appropriate laugh and his natural one, both featuring rictus grins with far too many oddly large teeth.

Odenkirk, Patel, Randall Park as Rogen’s editor, and Kurt Braunohler, Claudia O’Doherty, and Paul Scheer as a trio of FOX AND FRIENDS-esque network personalities turn in dependably strong work, as well, to round out the cast.

Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Directing LONG SHOT

Jonathan Levine continues to turn in solid directing efforts in comedies. He has a good sense of how to give his shots more dynamism than you get in typical comedies. He can also switch and incorporate other genres well. That comes in handy during a brief action sequence. The staging of it reminded me of NAKED GUN with its ability to ring laughs out of fairly simple sight gags amidst the explosions.

So few comedies feature the kind of directing that makes the images on-screen as important as the jokes. Thus, it is a nice thing when you see a movie that values both. Levine, as usual, does both in LONG SHOT.

That’s a Wrap!

Score another one for the return of romantic comedies. It’s not as heartfelt or smart as some other recent rom-coms worth catching like THE BIG SICK. Still, LONG SHOT points to the genre’s improvement and steady rise back to reliable cinema fare.

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