If a fresh Avengers movie dominating the box office in late spring is beginning to feel like a new tradition, then so is a solid Charlize Theron comedy following it up in the subsequent week. Trailing the release of Infinity War in 2018, the actress led the criminally-overlooked exploration in motherhood Tully from Jason Reitman. Now the week after Endgame was unleashed to the masses in 2019, Theron stars as a popular Secretary of State in an unlikely love affair with an irreverent journalist played by Seth Rogen in the hilarious romantic comedy Long Shot.
The film is the latest from Jonathan Levine, a comedy director who got his start with the slasher horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane in 2006, and who has spent the remainder of his career behind the helm of lighter fare. His first feature to gain sizable attention was the excellent comedy-drama 50/50 in 2011, which was also the first time he worked with Seth Rogen. Since then, he’s crafted the offbeat zombie romance Warm Bodies in 2013, the holiday comedy The Night Before in 2015, and the Amy Schumer-Goldie Hawn flick Snatched for Mother’s Day in 2017.
Including 50/50 and The Night Before, Long Shot is the third time the director has collaborated with Rogen, as the pair obviously have a symbiotic working relationship. Next to 50/50, Long Shot is easily one of Levine’s best films, so it’s safe to say that he should work with the star more often. Charlize Theron, on the other hand, has never worked with Levine before, but she has experience in the comedic realm starring in Jason Reitman’s comedies Young Adult and Tully. Judging by Long Shot, she could benefit from collaborating with Levine more often as well.
In the film, Theron stars as Charlotte Field, the youngest-ever Secretary of State of the United States, and she’s gearing up for a presidential run. Amusingly, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) plays the vain and apathetic President Chambers, who gained fame for playing the president on a West Wing-esque TV show for over a decade. He’s more interested in becoming a movie star than being president, so he informs Charlotte he’s not going to seek re-election, and that he’ll endorse her in the 2020 presidential race. Everything is beginning to fall into place for Field.
Fred Flarsky, on the other hand, (Seth Rogen), just lost his job as an unkempt and provocative writer for The Brooklyn Advocate. His buddy Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) takes him to an elite party to cheer him up with a private Boys II Men performance, and Fred runs into Charlotte, who he used to have a crush on when she used to be his babysitter. Field is impressed by his articles, so she decides to take a chance and hire him as her speech writer. To everyone’s surprise, sparks start to fly, and before he knows it, Fred is dating the most powerful woman in the world.
In a screen pairing I never would have imagined I’d see in my lifetime, Charlize Theron as Charlotte Field and Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky play off each other in a duo that is both adorably bizarre and enigmatically dynamic. It’s been a few years since we’ve had a decent dose of Seth Rogen, and he proves here that our senses of humor are far worse off without him. We don’t, however, tend to think of Theron as a comedic actress, and though her best work is her more serious fare, films like Long Shot prove she’s got the chops to make us laugh when she wants to.
Admittedly, the film is another case of classic Hollywood male wish-fulfillment similar to 2010’s She’s Out of My League in which the underdog single guy scores the incredible hottie for a girlfriend, but Long Shot is elevated by an equal, and at times, unflattering focus on each partner. Sure, Flarsky plummets face-down from a staircase in spectacular fashion, but Field also flounders through a diplomatic negotiation while tripping on ecstasy. It’s an honest and fair approach to a scenario that generally comes of as sexist, and it leads to some solid material.
The film is also boosted by what could be described as an examination of unconventional power dynamics in relationships, here brought to the extreme as a man with literally no means of income is not only hired by the most highly positioned woman in the world, he is also dating her. As Flarsky’s look and style starkly contrast with the standard conception of what type of man Field might date, the couple feels pressured to either force Fred to project a false image, or to ultimately break up. It’s a dilemma that is resolved in a delightfully unpredictable manner.
Where this scenario ultimately ends up is refreshing, as it’s a valuable lesson on not only how love isn’t bound by our shallow societal standards, but also on never compromising yourself to please anyone. As this story is set during a presidential election, it is amusing the ways in which the film both is and isn’t relevant to reality. In one way, it’s a relieving fantasy world in which our political scene is not burdened by our present chaos, and in another it’s playfully accurate in its depictions of an evil media conglomerate and a president obsessed with watching himself on TV.
But on its most basic level, the movie is but-gusting hilarious. From the audacious opening scene in which Flarsky infiltrates a white neo-Nazi meeting in an allusion to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, to Field’s over-confident, drug-induced celebration interview with the media after fumbling through a hostage crisis, the movie is a welcome return to the low-brow obnoxious comedy in an age in which the category is struggling in competition with superhero blockbusters. If Long Shot is any indication, the genre is far from exhausted, and hopefully we’ll see a revival someday.
Lionsgate, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Denver and Delilah Films.
Directed by Jonathan Levine.
Written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah.
Starring Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, and Alexander Skarsgård.
Released May 3, 2019.