Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron Make for an odd couple in Political Comedy.
DIRECTED BY: JONATHAN LEVINE/2019
At first glance, one might come to believe that here we have another pot-smoking Seth Rogan film where he brings his crass, drug-themed shtick to a Rom-com, and nothing more. While there will be elements of this description sprinkled all throughout the new film, Long Shot, the surprising aspect is how entertaining it actually manages to be. Loaded with a fantastic cast, and a script from Liz Hannah (The Post) and Dan Sterling (Television’s Girls, The Sarah Silverman Program), Long Shot overcomes such low-hanging generalizations and emerges as an entertaining film that surprisingly makes the pairing of Seth Rogan, and the Oscar-winning talent of Charlize Theron, seem possible…at least within the world this film has created.
Seth Rogan is Fred Flarsky, a passionate journalist, who literally puts his life on the line to get the big story, like infiltrating a white-nationalist Nazi group even though he is a Jew. The only problem with his passion is that it keeps him in small-time outlets where he enjoys the freedom to say what he wants, how he wants to, but not in any way that will be read by the masses. He attributes this, of course, to the corporate papers who are only happy pursuing the bottom line at the expense of real journalism. When his paper is bought out by such a corporate entity, he quits his job so that he can at least hang on to his moral integrity.
Finding himself sad and in need of work, he turns to his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.-Straight Outta Compton) who decides to take him to a high-end party where the night’s entertainment is a private concert by Boyz II Men. It is here that his path crosses with Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Theron), who recognizes Flarsky as the sweet 13-year old neighbor she used to babysit for when she was in High School. He is offered a job writing for her as she makes speeches and seeks support for her environmental initiative, which will serve to launch her upcoming 2020 presidential campaign.
Let me say upfront that this script absolutely does not work without the talent of Charlize Theron anchoring it. She has all but shied-away from romantic comedies, choosing to take on films with more dramatic, or action-based foundations (think Mad Max, Atomic Blonde, Monster, Tully, or Prometheus). While she kills at comedy, as every Arrested Development fan can attest, it is the more serious work she has done that helps her ground Long Shot through her performance, and this provides a sense of believability to the role.
As a Secretary of State, Theron pulls off the round the clock pressure position where she literally sleeps standing up, and takes interviews while on the elliptical machine working. As a woman, she is further scrutinized for everything she does, says, wears, etc. From the way she waves, to whether she is humorous or not, everything must be accounted for if she hopes to eventually make a presidential run. Theron is able to maintain the poise, strength, and grace she must embody for a character in this situation, even when things turn and she tries to play things more fast and loose.
Once Flarsky and Secretary Fields reconnect, this is when these two seemingly polar opposite personalities and worlds clash and the comedy begins. Flarsky is the true fish-out-of-water character as his laid back dress, and impulsive anger issues disrupt the precise, protocol-ed nature of the political realm. This is seen especially by the reactions of Secretary Field’s staff, Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael-Blockers) and Tom (Ravi Patel-Master of None). Secretary Fields isn’t so much a fish-out-of-water as much as someone who has forgotten how, or hasn’t been allowed to be her true self in some time. Her arc is more one of rediscovery.
The supporting cast is fantastic as it is anchored by Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, The Incredibles 2), Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes Trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Lord of the Rings). Odenkirk is pitch perfect as a former television actor, who played the President in a show, becoming the real President, and who now is wanting to give up a run for re-election in order to capitalize on his fame to launch himself into movies….because “very few people have successfully transitioned from t.v. to film”. Serkis dons more make-up and effects to become the creepy Parker Wembley, while Skarsgard (The Hummingbird Project) seemingly gets to play the hot Canadian Prime Minister as love interest to Secretary Fields, albeit with a hidden laugh that is rightfully suppressed throughout the film, but perfectly brought out for maximum effect at the right time.
Long Shot is a film that strives to strike the balance between the sweet and the crass, much like There’s Something About Mary did nearly 20 years ago. Most films, since Mary have either fallen into the trap of either being one or the other without a very good balance to make it work. For the most part, Long Shot gets it right, primarily because of Theron’s charm, humor, and acting chops.
Seth Rogan plays the same character he has always played, but that is not in any way a put down. He has shown great depth before in this type of role such as in 50/50, or even Funny People, but here is finally able to express this type of depth in a full-out comedy, where the other roles I mentioned were grounded in more serious themes. He is a better actor than I think he gives himself credit for, and comedy can be a very difficult medium to balance as you seek to combine outrageous humor and situations with a grounded performance that demonstrates depth and growth, even amidst the silliness. This bodes well for Rogan who has several projects lined up which look to stretch him as an actor, including one where he plays Walter Cronkite as he reports live about the Kennedy assassination.
Your enjoyment of Long Shot will ultimately come down to how much you can buy in on the admittedly ridiculous notion that Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron would find true love in the arms of each other. Fortunately for us, they were able to make us believe their characters did, and this helps give a Long Shot some pretty good odds at finding itself a hit, even in the shadow of the massive box office titan, Avengers: Endgame.