While sitting through Long Shot, I repeatedly thought to myself, “Next week I’m seeing a movie where a bunch of superheroes fight a giant purple man who has magic stones. That seems more believable.” But why should one form of on-screen fantasy be treated as more respectable than another? The romantic comedy is inherently a fantastical genre, complete with timed meet-cutes, witty banter, clear obstacles, and happy endings. Real relationships are far more tumultuous and complex, but we like watching them distilled on screen so we can get to the good bits and discard the messy realities. In this way, Jonathan Levine’s movie is a pitch perfect rom-com in the mold of classics like Pretty Woman and The American President but with that added brand of raunchiness and irreverence you’d find in a typical Seth Rogen comedy. The film is sweet, funny, delightful, and while its premise might strain credulity, it’s difficult to mind when the movie is so enjoyable.
Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is an acclaimed journalist who has just quit his job after the publication is purchased by loathsome, Rupert Murdoch-inspired mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the Secretary of State who is angling to run for President after the current President (Bob Odenkirk), an actor who played the President on TV and managed to get elected for the real job, decides he doesn’t want to run for a second term (the reason why is pretty funny, and I won’t spoil it here). Charlotte babysat for Fred when they were kids, and they run into each other again at a Boyz II Men performance. Charlotte needs a speechwriter who can make her sound funnier, and Fred needs a job. As the two work together, sparks fly, and they’re forced to confront their own baggage as they become romantically entangled.
Long Shot is not really interested in the nitty-gritty of politics or even the weight of politics. It wants the glamour of Fred and Charlotte jet-setting around the world, going to fancy gatherings, and pushing an undefined environmental initiative. Levine, working from a script by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling, aren’t too interested in getting into the weeds of what a Secretary of State and her speechwriter’s jobs actually entail. Instead, it’s about providing opportunities for Charlotte and Fred to be together and convincing the audience to root for a highly successful woman who looks like Charlize Theron and a highly successful man who looks like Seth Rogen (this isn’t me trying to take a shot at Rogen’s appearance; the movie has jokes about pairing successful women with non-traditionally handsome men).
It speaks to the strength of the direction, script, and performances that we become so invested in Charlotte and Fred’s relationship. Theron and Rogen have fantastic chemistry. For Rogen, this is the performance we’ve come to expect—sharply comic, a little raunchy but never offensive, and ultimately sweet and endearing. But I continue to marvel at Theron’s range and versatility. She’s been a lead actress for about twenty years now, and she continues to show that she can do it all. You have no trouble believing her as a highly accomplished diplomat with a path to the presidency and can just as easily see her getting high on molly. Although the title refers to the likelihood of a relationship between someone like Fred and someone like Charlotte, an arguably longer shot is someone like Charlotte being able to let loose and have fun. Theron makes us believe it without a moment’s pause.
In some ways, Long Shot feels a bit like Rogen’s breakthrough 2007 effort Knocked Up, but a bit wiser and more aware of what it means when a gorgeous leading lady hooks up with someone like a Rogen character. But what makes Long Shot feel like the sharper film is how it adds more depth and nuance to the characters. The movie goes on about how Fred’s such a talented writer, but it’s not like he swoops in and suddenly makes Charlotte more powerful or likable. And when she looks at his writing, she has feedback and input rather than simply accepting the power of his words. Likewise, Charlotte has to wonder if she can be with Fred and take the Presidency or if she’s sacrificing her values and losing sight of her real goals. The film is aware of how the duo appears like an unlikely couple, so it works hard to make sure the characters complement each other.
In many ways, Long Shot is the typical 21st century rom-com, looking to upend the genre while still sticking to its larger conventions. But those conventions tend to work for a reason, and when you’ve got great jokes, terrific leads with believable chemistry, and strong direction, the concoction works. We’re asked to believe in movies far more bizarre and stranger than Long Shot. But because it never feels like it’s catering to male wish fulfillment and gives its characters real personalities and flaws, the relationship comes alive and makes this rom-com an absolute winner.