EXPECTATIONS: Something better than expected, given the improbable premise.
REVIEW: Romantic comedies are a bit of a conundrum in terms of execution. In comparison to other genres (and oddly enough, the action genre), it has gone through the most criticism. While people can get into the fantasy of said genre, others criticize the genre for its lack of realism and plausibility.
Case in point, Jonathan Levine‘s Long Shot. The pairing of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron is an unbelievable proposition to consider and the film milks it for all of its worth. But is it possible to make an entertaining and plausible film out of this premise as well a film that is both compellingly romantic and funny, considering the talent involved?
Seth Rogen is back doing romantic comedies that have the conceit that he can be romantically entangled with strikingly beautiful women (ever since Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, Amber Heard in The Pineapple Express, Collette Wolfe in Observe and Report and so on.) but are audiences today still up for it?
Charlize Theron has been quite hesitant towards the romantic comedy genre (despite showing some hints in A Million Ways To Die In The West) and has underappreciated comedic chops that are rarely showcased (films like Young Adult and Tully). Will Long Shot be a perfect springboard for them as well as?
Director Jonathan Levine has worked in the romantic comedy genre before, thanks to his zombie rom-com Warm Bodies; and has made many good comedies like The Night Before, 50/50 and The Wackness. But his last film, Snatched, was a major step down for all involved. Will Long Shot be his return to form?
Rogen stars as Fred Flarsky, a talented and acerbic journalist, whose revels in escapades that expose world issues, which border on controversial. He quits his job (hilariously out of spite and pride) due to his place of business being bought out by a large media conglomerate, owned by media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, donning makeup).
Theron stars as Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State of the United States, one of the most influential women in the world. Wanting to make a positive difference in the world, she prepares to make a run for the Presidency. When Fred unexpectedly reconnects with Charlotte, past memories of the two come flooding back and positive impressions are made (despite a very violent fall), leading to Charlotte impulsively hiring Fred to be her speechwriter, much to the dismay of her trusted advisors (led by Ravi Patel and June Diane Raphael, who is wonderfully passive-aggressive here). Sparks fly, leading to a romance that is unbelievable, but not impossible.
All three talents have something to prove to themselves and thankfully, Long Shot provides a solid argument for all of them, as it is a very entertaining film thanks to its comedic instincts; as well as being surprisingly and genuinely romantic, thanks to the compelling chemistry between Rogen and Theron.
One of the reasons why the film works is due to the level of plausibility the story has. Whether it accounts for gender politics, the perception of government politics, women in the workplace, journalism, social media, religion, it all adds a certain verisimilitude to the story, as well as lend some valuable perspective on the characters and their actions (and lack thereof).
And of course, having such plausibility comes with timely themes, which gives the comedy certain punch, particularly when it aims its guns towards politics with sharp, if not entirely subtle, satire. The biggest giveaway is Andy Serkis‘ performance as Parker Wembley, who gives a damn funny deconstruction of Steve Bannon and Rupert Murdoch, whilst almost looking unrecognizable. Unfortunately, the film does end up going for easy targets like Christianity, drug culture, Nazis; resulting in little comedic rewards. Also on that note, the film suffers from over-explaining jokes to the point of ruining them i.e a running joke involving a tattoo; and some of the raunchiness feels awfully out of place.
But where the film really succeeds is in its romance. Ever since Knocked Up, people were meant to chuckle at the supposed implausibility of the premise, in which a short, stocky stoner woos a beautiful, successful, professionally ambitious woman. In Long Shot, the revamped premise is stretched to breaking point but thanks to the chemistry of the leads and the strong script (by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah), the romance succeeds.
It helps that the characterizations are strong, rom-com tropes are thankfully subverted to adhere to the realism of said timely story (particularly in how it avoids the tired trope of forcing a woman to decide between her job and her relationship or how even the slightest amount of emotion can make the media’s perception of a woman hysterical) and even the easy targets of the comedy add to the character arcs in a covert manner that is quite surprising i.e. when Flarsky discovers a secret from his best friend Lance, (played enthusiastically by O’Shea Jackson Jr.).
Seth Rogen still plays the stock personality that he’s gone with over the past 15 years. While it did play out during his career insurgence due to overexposure, Rogen has gotten it down to an art form and is still an entertaining and amusingly down-to-earth performance. Under Levine’s guiding direction and the strong script, the usual character traits that Rogen adheres to (the drug culture in particular) adds to the characterization, giving the character of Flarsky a down-to-earth feel. Rogen even steps up his game (as one should) when he works alongside Theron, particularly when scenes become more dramatic and romantic; and he does so convincingly, as he becomes more understated and intimate. It may not be a complete revelation ala Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, but it is in the same ballpark.
Charlize Theron has always been a great actress and commits to the material, regardless of quality. In recent years, she has gone into more genre fare and faring quite well, with hits like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fate of the Furious, Atomic Blonde and Kubo and the Two Strings. Venturing into rom-com territory, Theron once again nails the part. She easily convinces in the part of Charlotte as she exercises her comedic chops and even has the best comedic setpiece all to herself, which involves negotiating with terrorists. The script also gives the character a strong sense of agency – she isn’t a puppet to be controlled nor eye candy to be leered, but someone who is good at her job, knows what she wants in a relationship and will do her darnedest to get it, and Theron makes the most of it.
As for the chemistry between Rogen and Theron, it just works. During the scene where their characters meet, there’s a spark of intimacy, awkwardness and familiarity that lights up and once the audience notices it, they are immersed and on that note, a true romantic feeling flows on the screen.
Overall, Long Shot is a success in the polls. It may not win on a landslide due to some of its comedic instincts, but it works when it counts, thanks to Jonathan Levine’s assured directorial hand, committed performances by Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, a stronger than expected script by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah and a romance that is genuinely romantic and affectionately heartfelt. Recommended.
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Cast: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Serkis, Randall Park, Tristan D. Lalla, Alexander Skarsgård.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenwriters: Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah