A film review by Craig J. Koban May 15, 2019


2019, R, 120 mins.


Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky  /  Charlize Theron as Charlotte Field  /  Boyz II Men as Themselves  /  June Diane Raphael as Maggie  /  O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Lance  /  Bob Odenkirk as President Chambers  /  Andy Serkis as Parker Wembley  /  Ravi Patel as Tom  /  Randall Park as Boss

Directed by Jonathan Levine  /  Written by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling




I don't typically ask much of most romcoms. 

I honestly don't.  

Even when their plots go down the most predictable of paths all that I simply require out of them is to make me care.  These films must give me two characters that are likeable, relatable, and that I want to see live on happily ever after just before the end credits roll by.  

LONG SHOT is the latest romcom that coasts by on many conventional and troupe laden roads, and you can essentially see its narrative maneuver itself from one preordained beat to the next.  But it's so wonderfully engaging because of the odd couple chemistry of its seemingly mismatched leads, both of whom manage to harness the cockamamie material given to them and somehow make it all feel authentically grounded.  Plus, LONG SHOT also dabbles in some shrewdly written political satire and provides some very topical commentary about how female candidates face much stricter roadblocks on the way to success beyond their male counterparts. 

But, yes, LONG SHOT is specifically engineered to be an easily digestible crowd pleaser genre effort that also manages - rather refreshingly - to be an adult oriented film that doesn't shy away from its hard-R rating (far too many clean cut and saccharine romcoms these days seem tailor made for teen audiences).  And the whole film is marketed on the utterly unconventional pairing of stars Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, both of whom seem - with respect and admiration to Mr. Rogen - to be on polar opposite ends of the gene pool.  Director Jonathan Levine (no stranger to the comedies, having previously made the superb 50/50 with Rogen and the terribly underrated zombie infused WARM BODIES) understands the bizarre nature of these two actors coming together, but he nevertheless crafts a romcom that builds on both of their inherent strengths as performers, leading to them coming off as such a natural and effortlessly winning dynamic duo here.  A majority of the euphoric charm that comes off of LONG SHOT is in large thanks to Theron and Rogen's involvement here. 



Still, Rogen is occupying his comfort zone here playing his umpteenth intelligent, but awkward and weed lovin' man child character (granted, he's so easily agreeable and assured in these roles that it's hard to nitpick about it).  He plays the dweeby named Fred Flarsky, a popular, but polarizing journalist for an alternative publication that's not afraid to let the writer run wild with attacking big game targets in F-bomb riddled headlines.  The film establishes his unique brand of journalistic courage in an oddly chilling opening sequence involving him going undercover as a Jew hater to infiltrate a local neo-Nazi organization (not entirely the feel-good opening for any romcom).  Fred's life changes for the worse when he arrives at work one day and is told by his boss that their paper is about to be purchased by a conservative nut job media mogul (played by an astonishingly unrecognizable Andy Serkis), and he decides that he'd rather quit with his pride intact than have to work for a man that represents everything he politically loathes. 

The sorrowful and angry Fred manages to find some solace in his BFF Lance (a superb O'Shea Jackson Jr. from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), who decides to take him to an ultra posh fundraiser, during which time he fatefully crosses paths with Charlotte Field (Theron), who once was his babysitter back in the day and his now trying to launch a campaign to run for President of the United States.  She's currently Secretary of State for the blowhard Commander-in-Chief (Bob Odenkirk), who's a former reality TV star (sound familiar?) that doesn't want to seek re-election and instead wants to take a stab at starring in movies.  Realizing that she has her work cut out for her on the campaign trail, Charlotte decides to hire Fred as her chief speech writer, seeing as she admires his work and his overall frankness and honesty of approach.  But she also sentimentally remembers Fred as a nurturing young fan of hers back in high school that shared her passion to change the world. 

Hmmmmm...I wonder if both of them will manage to fall in love along the way and complicate her election bid? 

Sarcasm aside, the overall premise for LONG SHOT is pure TV sitcom levels of preposterous hogwash.  Yet, the film is awfully sweet tempered and unbelievably funny and smart when it comes to honing in on this pair of highly unlikely lovers.  Rogen is the furthest thing away from conventional leading man material, even though he's been in some solid romcoms that play up to his everyman schlub-like stature (see KNOCKED UP).  LONG SHOT harnesses the inherent Rogenian wackiness and crudeness that we've all come to expect from the actor, but Levine also intuitively knows how to reign the actor in just right to capture his well meaning heart and soul as well.  This film understands, of course, that Theron is a million miles out of Rogen's league, but it does have inspired moments of merriment at this bizarre expense of their union.  The two actors play things as straight and sincerely as possible so that you become more willing to buy into their improbable union as the story progresses.   

Is there a finer, more headstrong, and versatile actress working in movies than Theron?  She's completely unafraid of genre challenge and has played everything from post-apocalyptic road warriors in action films like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD to cold hearted businesswomen in sci-fi thrillers like PROMETHEUS to serial killers in MONSTER and depressed pregnant mothers in comedies like TULLY.  There's virtually no role that she doesn't completely and authentically inhabit, and in LONG SHOT she demonstrates terrific comic timing alongside a fiery tenacity playing a beleaguered woman in a relative sausage fest of a political landscape.  Her character is also of chief importance to the film's most sobering theme of exploring how women oftentimes feel forced to radically alter their true image to win over voters that otherwise would give flawed male candidates a free pass.  Charlotte is surrounded by narcissistic and sexist men in power who have this unsavory desire to derail any potential chance she has to make it to the White House (everything from personal blackmail to slut shaming is thrown in her face).  LONG SHOT's basic romcom premise is wholly contrived, but it has a lot of insightful things to say about white male privilege as a damning force in contemporary politics that's breaking it apart. 

But make no mistake about it, this is still a potty mouthed, drug fuelled, and bodily fluid gag laced raunch-fest beyond its smart and layered handling of Theron's character (projectile semen even becomes a very specific and frequently referenced plot point here).  However, I'm no prude and despite some of the film's icky content I'm mostly glad that LONG SHOT stuck to its creative guns to make a mature minded romcom not directed at kids.  And like great past comedies, Levine here manages to marry the film's aggressive raunch with an appealingly tender handling of character dynamics.  I only wished that LONG SHOT was tighter, leaner, and, well, shorter (at a watch checking two hours, the film is 15-plus minutes too long for its own good) and maybe was a bit more progressive minded in its handling of the obligatory accoutrements of the genre (LONG SHOT is a smart comedy that oftentimes adheres to a plethora of dumb formulas).  This might not all matter, because Levine places commendable trust in his oddly assembled lead actors and lets them invest in the characters, leading to some superb on-screen chemistry that helps wash away the old fashioned vibe of the storytelling on display. 

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