Long Shot is an excellent measure of how the film landscape has changed in recent times. Just a few years ago, its set-up would likely have been approached very differently. Seth Rogen plays Fred, a socially awkward, but loud, writer who winds up working for the incredibly beautiful and competent Secretary of State, Charlotte, played by Charlize Theron. She used to babysit him and he’s always had a crush on her. It’s easy to imagine the version in which this absolutely normal male tries to ‘win’ an incredibly beautiful woman, where she is a prize and he’s the competitor. Long Shot is a lot smarter and funnier than that.
Written by Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post), manages to be both a high-energy romantic comedy and an absurdist political satire. Charlotte and Fred are both in industries going through some rough times. Fred writes for a snarky left-leaning political blog, which has just been bought by exactly the sort of huge media mogul it rails against (a prosthetic-covered Andy Serkis, playing a character who may as well be called Mupert Rurdoch). So Fred quits, rich in principles, poor in cash. Charlotte is protégé of an idiot President (Bob Odenkirk), an ex-actor who won support because he played the President on TV. He’s realised that job is harder without a script and doesn’t want a second term, suggesting Charlotte run instead. She begins an engineered path to the presidency, with focus groups and photo ops, trying to mold herself into someone ‘likeable’.
The story finds the humour and romance in the fact these two have both got lost on the way to who they want to be: Fred is an angry teenager in a middle-aged man’s body, still using shouting as his best tool to effect change; Charlotte is an idealist who has started playing the game in order to advance and is now approaching real power, but as a fake, underpowered version of herself. When they meet at a party, Fred and Charlotte get a glimpse of who they wanted to be and recognise the best in each other. She sees his talent and hires him as her speechwriter, where he can hone the angry jokes into something useful; he sees her passion and challenges her to stick to her guns instead of moderating herself to win the Presidency but do nothing with it. The romance grows, like any workplace coupling, because they find someone they relate to and who makes the bad crap better. There’s no tricking anyone into liking someone, no big makeover to reveal the ugly duckling is a sexy swan, no big blow up when someone’s lies are discovered. It’s a (silly version of a) grown up relationship.
And it’s funny as hell. Theron is not really known for comedy, though she’s been excellent in some very funny movies, like Young Adult and Tully. This is the broadest she’s gone and if there are scenes where you can see she’s settling into it, for the most part she is having the time of her life and taking us with her. In one sequence, when Charlotte decides Molly is a drug she should try, she has to negotiate a hostage situation while absolutely off her tits, and it is excellent. Theron rises to meet Rogen, who has been doing this kind of comedy for several yonks. They’re a highly enjoyable team with genuine chemistry. You believe they could fall for each other. Side note: special mention to June Diane Raphael as Maggie’s chief of staff. She could steal the whole thing, she’s that hilarious, but she’s gracious enough to let the leads keep it.
The romantic comedy is a pretty sparse genre in cinemas these days, but this is proof that it can still be done brilliantly and surprisingly. Long shot hit the bull’s-eye.