|Original caricature by Jeff York of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in LONG SHOT. (copyright 2019)
In early April, Charlize Theron told People magazine that she is “shockingly single” and more than “ready to date.” Perhaps too many men are intimidated by her success, her smarts, and her looks. Maybe it’s the fact that her last boyfriend was Sean Penn. Could it be her ass-kicking roles in MAD MAX FURY ROAD and ATOMIC BLONDE have scared away suitors? No matter, her new movie manages to blend Theron’s screen persona and personal life into one meta mix. She plays a high-powered single woman who’s running for president, and inexplicably, the only man who answers the call to be her partner is a shlub played by Seth Rogen.Rogen has dated out of his league onscreen before. Playing Katherine Heigl’s one-night stand which ends up becoming her “baby papa” in 2007’s KNOCKED UP made him a star. Here, he’s playing a similarly brash fly in the ointment, though this time those characteristics have a higher purpose. They serve his job as a muckraking reporter named Fred Flarsky (Oh, that name!). Fred’s the kind of gonzo journalist who jumps out of a window to escape the neo-Nazi group he’s infiltrated…two stories up.
The ever-righteous Fred soon quits his job when the online magazine he works for gets sold to a sleazy corporation. Accepting an invitation to a high-powered party to balm his fury, he joins his bestie Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), an entrepreneur. The most prominent guest at the party happens to be Charlotte Field (Theron), the Secretary of State. Fred is petrified of having to face Charlotte again because she was his babysitter decades ago. When he was 11, and she was 17, he had a big crush on her, manifesting itself into an embarrassing boner poking at his shorts. The film goes there, showing it in flashback, and will continually push things to the R-rated edge like that.
When Fred finally talks to Charlotte, he brings up the embarrassing incident from the past, but she remembers it as more of a sweet, natural kind of occurrence and not something to be humiliated over. Suddenly, the film blends the genial in with the outrage, and that potent and provocative mix will inform the rest of the story. Fred starts working for Charlotte as a speechwriter, and while their relationship is often oil and water, it’s also an adult one, full of nuance and complexity.
The film will continue to paint Fred in various shades of buffoonery, but he’s also shown to be one smart cookie. Charlotte needs someone has unfiltered and blunt as he is to keep her honest, especially given all the DC BS circling around her constantly. No matter how many tumbles Fred will take, including some down flights of stairs, he’s her best speechwriter. And no matter how awful he dresses, favoring ball caps and color-blocked, nylon hoodies), the man ends up being Charlotte’s best accessory.
That’s especially important when they travel to Europe as part of a tour aimed at shoring up her experience to enable a run for the presidency. The current POTUS (Bob Odenkirk) is a buffoon, yet he’s promised Charlotte that he’ll endorse her. As Charlotte goes from one big international meeting to the next, Fred is by her side to guide her, keep her policies consistent, and coax out the better person inside.
He helps her get in touch with her more authentic self, and soon they’re both falling in love. Perhaps the film’s slyest twist lies in having Charlotte end up being a lot more like Fred than first suggested. Yes, she can rock international meetings and evening gowns with equal aplomb, but deep down she wants to be as genuine as Fred, and he brings out her inner geek, rebel, and progressive politico.
Rogen can often be funny just standing there, what with his scruffy beard and hoarse-voiced bluster, but in this film, he manages to be all that and also a mature romantic lead. He and Theron do have undeniable chemistry together, and when the story calls for them to kiss or make love, it’s entirely believable. Hilarious in parts, yes, but sensual too.
The film doesn’t shy away from its liberal politics any more than its sex scenes. Climate change, political corruption, and sexism are issues that drive the story. Charlotte is an expert politician, as shrewd as any leader she meets, yet because she’s a woman, every instance is an uphill climb to be taken seriously. LONG SHOT refers to Fred’s chances with her, but more importantly, that title describes every attempt by Charlotte to change her station. The odds are against her because she’s a woman and a beautiful one that too many can’t see past cosmetically. The part is perfect for Theron and how it dovetails into her personal life makes this performance all the richer.
And who knew that the Oscar-winning actress could be so utterly hilarious? One scene where Charlotte is stoned from doing drugs with Fred, and yet must handle an impromptu international incident over the phone, is side-splitting. And in those moments where Charlotte must make hard choices regarding her affair with Fred, Theron knows how to break your heart too.
Director Jonathan Levine manages to blend the silly and the serious throughout the film’s three acts, never letting the comedy go too far afield. If anything, he handles the more serious moments in the movie the best. I like how he enables the camera to sit on his two leads so much more than in most rom-com’s. We get to see these two think, as well as take the time it takes for them to fall in love. The script by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah manages to make their dialogue ring honestly, albeit with a Tracy and Hepburn style that makes for sophisticated banter. Sure, these scripters love writing dirty humor too, especially at the (ahem) climax when a particular bodily fluid plays heavily in the mix, but overall, their script is deft and adult.
LONG SHOT may be raucous and sharp-edged, riffing on sex, drugs, and politics, yet such acidity never overwhelms its sweetness. This movie believes in love and wears its heart all over its sleeve. In these cynical, bitter, and discombobulating times, that may be the most provocative stance for any big screen romance to take.