Films that label themselves as part of the romance genre follow a familiar pattern: man and woman meet, instantly dislike each other, form a mutual attraction and eventually declare their love. Any film that strays from this template is cause for celebration; one that also proves hilarious deserves even greater recognition.
Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is preparing to announce her nomination for the Presidency of the United States, having received the endorsement of the incumbent, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). But before she can make her announcement public, Charlotte needs to work on her public image – or, more specifically, her sense of humour, which she is perceived to lack. Fixing this problem requires Charlotte to hire a new speech writer, one who can make her sound more relatable to the American populace.
The person eventually chosen as speech writer is somebody Charlotte has known since childhood: Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a socially-conscious journalist famous for his provocative online articles. Although there is some initial hostility between the pair, particularly regarding their ideals, within days Charlotte and Fred have developed a solid working relationship, and the former’s image improves as a result; yet there are some who are sceptical of Fred’s influence, chiefly Charlotte’s assistant, Maggie (June Diane Raphael).
Although it has been pitched as a romantic-comedy, Long Shot differs greatly from the genre’s usual offerings, with the unlikely pairing of Rogen and Theron being just one factor that sets the film apart. Another point of difference is how contemporary the screenplay is, making pointed references to the current political climate – examples include the opening scene, which has Rogen’s character attend a white supremacist meeting, and Odenkirk’s character, who is obviously poking fun at the real-life American President.
Because Long Shot is so attuned to current affairs, this reviewer doubts that its material will be as resonant, or as humorous, in the years to come, and strongly urges everyone to see it before that happens. Having said that, it’s reassuring to know that the comedy does not rely solely on allusions to these tumultuous times, with plenty of other physical and verbal gags making their way into the film, all of which are perfectly delivered by an exceptional cast.
Such praise can most certainly be applied to Long Shot’s leading duo of Rogen and Theron. Of the two, it is the latter who proves more surprising – although she is an award-winning actress, and previously has a guest role on Arrested Development, Theron is rarely considered proficient in comedy, being better recognised for her dramatic body of work. Her performance in Long Shot allows Theron to showcase just how talented a comedienne she is, embracing her character’s silliness and timing her lines masterfully.
Rogen, on the other hand, is in more familiar territory, having stuck with the same brand of comedy he has been associated with this past decade. This could be a result of director Jonathan Levine’s involvement, with whom Rogen has collaborated twice previously. Levine is a very adept film-maker, so his involvement is no bad thing; more pleasing is that his movie is less shocking and smutty that the majority of Rogen’s filmography, with the opening sequence being the only truly confronting moment audiences are faced with.
In addition to being sharply funny, Long Shot is a very touching picture. The relationship between Charlotte and Fred is not the trite, love-hate kind that typifies this genre, instead being rather muted, sweet, and made all the more convincing by Theron and Rogen’s chemistry. Their pairing also offers a rather smart, engaging dilemma – Fred is an asset to Charlotte, yet his involvement might be detrimental to her image. It’s thought-provoking stuff that sees the viewer identifying, and agreeing, with both sides of the argument.
Sadly, none of this conflict has a profound impact on the story, or its characters. As Long Shot reaches its inevitable conclusion, there’s no sense that the two central protagonists have learned from their experience, or grown as a result of their actions. Further frustrating is the saccharine, fairy-tale ending that goes against what the screenplay has been preaching to viewers in the two hours prior. In fairness, this is the only occasion where Long Shot falls prey to the clichés of the rom-com, and for that it should be commended.
Long Shot is by far the funniest and most original romantic-comedy in years, an accolade secured by a smart screenplay that is wary of world events and scornful of the genre’s conventions. Additionally, the film benefits from two wonderful leads with exceptional chemistry – and who deliver, as usual, exemplary performances.