REVIEW – ‘Long Shot’ could be the year’s biggest surprise package

All romantic comedies require some suspension of disbelief from an audience. These films often exist in a world of hyper-reality where two polar opposite characters somehow fall madly in love with each other. When a studio offers up something like Long Shot, a romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, it’s hard not to raise one eyebrow in question of this film’s plausibility. The other eyebrow raises to join it when you learn the pair play a flawless U.S. Secretary of State and a scruffy unemployed journalist. Three guesses for who plays who.

Despite these reservations, this film just effortlessly works far more than it should. What we’re given is not only one of the funniest films you will see this year but one of the most charmingly romantic movies to boot. The implausible matching of Theron and Rogen proves to be a real winner, thanks to their terrific chemistry and sublime comedic timing. When these elements combine, we’re gifted with a series of hilarious moments that elicits genuine hysterical laughter and a love story that’s surprisingly touching and downright delightful. Could this be the year’s biggest surprise package?

Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is an intrepid muckraking liberal journalist at an alt-left Brooklyn newspaper, known for his provocative style and click-bait grabbing headlines like “Why The Two-Party System Can Suck A Dick.” But, as we know, times are tough in the journalism game and when the paper is sold to conservative Murdoch-esque media mogul Parker Wembley (a barely recognisable Andy Serkis), he resigns in protest. Drowning his sorrows with his childhood best friend Lance (a scene-stealing O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Fred winds up at a posh Manhattan fundraiser, where he awkwardly reunites with his old babysitter and now Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Theron).

Field, the youngest person to hold the office of Secretary of State, has her eyes firmly set on the White House, particularly after suffering under the administration of a horribly incompetent former TV-star president (Bob Odenkirk, perfectly cast) who somehow turned his celebrity popularity into a presidency. Sound familiar? When this “dumb-fuck” president decides he’d prefer to chase a movie career than run for reelection, Charlotte seeks her moment and launches a presidential election campaign. But after a rundown from an image consultant (a wonderful cameo from Lisa Kudrow) on her likeability with voters, there’s one small problem; she’s just not “fun” enough.

Seeking to punch up her speeches with a touch of humour and wit, Charlotte hires Fred as her new speechwriter, much to the dismay of her no-nonsense aides Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel). As she heads off on a world tour to elicit support for a daring environmental initiative that will form the cornerstone of her presidential run, Charlotte can’t help but grow closer to the doe-eyed Fred, who begins to loosen the flawless but uptight demeanour of his childhood crush and could just prove to be exactly the refreshing attitude she’s long needed. But is her newfound romance with such an everyman a risk to the election campaign she’s spent her entire life perfectly crafting?

On its surface, Long Shot is just another opposites attract romantic comedy that plays on the differences between its two leads for comedic and dramatic effect. In many ways, it absolutely is. We’ve seen this love story numerous times before. The key here is how screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah embrace the genre to create something fully aware of exactly what it is. Their obvious love for romantic comedies consistently shines through their writing. To the film’s benefit, there’s a real old-fashioned sense of charm that works remarkably well off that well-worn conceit. The screenplay understands its implausibility and never attempts to shy away from the glaringly obvious fact the concept is rather unfathomable.

But it’s the strength of its two leads that sells the concept and allows an audience to be taken to a place of perfect acceptance. Theron has dabbled with comedy in the past, but she’s never been given the chance to fully embrace the genre like we see here. With an expert display of comedic timing, she delivers yet another great performance in a career that has rarely faltered.  This is her film and she owns it. As the ambitious politician, she’s effortlessly regal and charming, perfectly capturing the personality we’re used to seeing from female leaders. But when she’s gifted the opportunity to let her hair down, Theron’s comedic chops are fully displayed to pitch-perfect effect.

No matter the character, Rogen has always produced a likability factor that’s hard to resist. Deny it all you will, but he’s one of the most lovable and reliable performers in Hollywood. Much like his performance in Knocked Up, his character knows the woman who has somehow fallen for him is well out of his league and it’s wonderfully endearing to watch Fred genuinely worship the ground Charlotte walks on. It’s refreshing to witness a male character crafted to boost and lift the female protagonist to becoming the best she can be, without a shred of selfish motivation. The pair have electric and earnest chemistry that rises above how society would view such a coupling, creating a love story that’s one of the most genuine you will see this year.

Amidst all the gushy romance is a surprisingly deep introspective look at politics and the ridiculous path female politicians must tread in order to succeed. With deep compassion shown for the absurd restrictions and analysis of Charlotte’s every movement (like how she can’t eat skewered food in the public view), there are obvious parallels to the unfair and sexist judgement placed on politicians like Hillary Clinton and the current string of female presidential hopefuls. The incessant hoops Charlotte must jump through to win people’s approval (particularly the men beneath her) is exhausting and you can’t help but feel sympathy any woman who’s currently suffering through this.

Given the tightness of control on her life, it’s hardly surprising to see the screenplay offer a moment of blissful escapism in which Charlotte pops some MDMA and heads out for a night of drug-induced dancing at a nightclub. But when a hostage negotiation crisis unfolds right in the middle of her “molly high,” Charlotte must attempt to snap back to playing Secretary of State, in a gloriously ridiculous sequence that’s downright hilarious. Is it a little too unbelievable to even fathom this could happen? Sure, but the result is so uproariously funny, you won’t even care.

With a hefty dose of political satire and sharp jabs at everything from Fox News to masturbation (There’s Something About Mary finally has a rival for a wicked semen gag), there’s so much joy to be found within Long Shot. The conclusion doesn’t quite land as effectively as it could and some of its feminist statements are a little bungled, but the overall film is genuinely heartwarming, incredibly funny, and one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

Distributor: Studio Canal
Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgard, Kurt Braunohler, Claudia O’Doherty, Paul Scheer
Director: Jonathan Levine
Producers: Charlize Theron, AJ Dix, Beth Kono, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Screenplay: Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah
Cinematography: Yves Belanger
Music: Marco Beltrami, Miles Hankins
Production Design: Kalina Ivanov
Editors: Melissa Bretherton, Evan Henke
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: 2nd May 2019 (Australia)

This review was originally posted at the AU review and can be viewed here.