2019’s Long Shot is a film that truly took me by surprise.
I have to admit that, when I first saw the trailer for Long Shot, I had my concerns. First off, it was an American political comedy and it’s been a while since there’s really been a good one of those. There’s been many attempts, especially after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. But, for the most part, the American films are always at their weakest when they try to be overly political. There’s always a disturbing lack of self-awareness that, when mixed with the type of strident tone that can only be maintained by people who have never seriously had their ideas challenged, tends to make for a very boring viewing experience. And, no, don’t you dare say, “What about Vice?” because Vice was freaking terrible.
Secondly, the trailer emphasized that Charlize Theron was playing the Secretary of State and that she was running to become the first woman elected President. This led me to suspect that the film might essentially be Hillary Clinton fanfic. Over the past few years, there’s actually been quite a few films and television show that have featured idealized versions of Hillary Clinton — i.e., all of the accomplishments without the albatross of her husband or the reputation for being casually corrupt. (For six seasons, there was a TV show called Madam Secretary that basically only existed to present an idealized version of Hillary.) Hillary fanfic, with its attempt to rehabilitate the image of a candidate so inept that she actually lost to Donald Trump, is always cringey.
Finally, as much as I hate to admit it, I was concerned that the film not only starred but was produced by Seth Rogen. And don’t get me wrong. I love Seth Rogen. Seth Rogen is literally my favorite stoner. I think that, with the right material, he can be one of the funniest performers around. The problem is that, in the past, Seth Rogen has always been brilliant as long as he wasn’t talking about politics. Whenever he started talking politics, he just turned into every other wealthy and rather self-righteous progressive. While Rogen’s political tweets were never as banal as the thoughts of uberboomer Stephen King, there was still nothing about them that suggested that Rogen would be capable of producing one of the funniest and most good-hearted political comedies to come out in the past few years.
And so, like a lot of people, I skipped Long Shot when it was playing in theaters. I waited until it was released on video to watch Long Shot and you know what? It turned out that almost everything that I had assumed about Long Shot was incorrect.
Yes, it’s a very political movie but it’s also far more self-aware than I was expecting it to be. Seth Rogen apparently knows that he has a reputation for being a very loud, knee-jerk leftie because he actually does a very good job of poking fun at his own image. Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a loud and crude journalist who quits his job when he discovers that the underground newspaper that he was working for has been purchased by Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, playing a not-at-all disguised version of Rupert Murdoch). Fred is about as far to the Left as one can be and he tends to assume that all of his associates agree with him, even though he never bothers to ask them. One of the best scenes in the film comes when his best friend, Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), reveals to a stunned Fred that he’s not only a Republican and a Christian but that he’s been one the entire time that he’s known Fred. Fred never caught on because he just assumed that Lance, being black, would naturally be a Democrat. When Lance asks Fred why he thought Lance wore a cross around his neck, a befuddled Fred can only reply that he thought it was “cultural.” It’s a great scene and one that’s wonderfully played by Rogen and Jackson and it works precisely because it remains true to what we’ve seen of both characters. Almost everything that Lance says over the course of the movie does reflect a traditionally conservative mindset but, like Fred, we don’initially don’t notice because Lance is being played by Ice Cube’s son. When Fred discovers that Lance is a Republican, it doesn’t change Fred’s mindset but it does teach him that progressives can be just as guilty as conservatives when it comes to making assumptions about people based on where they’re from or what they look like. As a stunned and chastened Fred puts it, “I’m a racist, you’re a Republican, I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.”
Secondly, the film’s romance is incredibly charming. Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State who used to be Fred’s babysitter. After they run into each other at a reception, Charlotte hires Fred to work as a speech writer for her nascent presidential campaign. You would not expect Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen to have a ton of romantic chemistry but they do. Theron is an underrated comedic actress and there’s a lot of fun to be had in just listening to her and Rogen bounce lines off of each other. In fact, as funny as Rogen is, I’d have to say that Charlize Theron is even funnier. One of the highlights of the film is when Fred and Charlotte sneak away to a club, where they dance and end up taking ecstacy. Over course, as soon as the drugs kick in, a major diplomatic crisis breaks out and an extremely high Charlotte has to deal with a hostage crisis. Theron appears to be having a ball with the role and really, this is the film for which she should have been Oscar nominated. Theron convinces us that 1) she’s a masterful diplomat, 2) that she could be elected President of the United States, and 3) that she could fall in love with someone as messy as Fred without sacrificing her own ambitions.
Long Shot has its flaws, of course. Andy Serkis is a bit too over-the-top in his villainy and the film has a 125-minute running time, which is way too long for what is essentially a fairly simple romantic comedy. Some of the scenes of Fred and Charlotte traveling around the world probably could have been cut without harming the story. There’s an environmental subplot that feels a bit too obvious and there’s a joke about Fred accidentally ejaculating on his own face that’s never as funny as the film seems to think that it is.
That said, Long Shot is often a surprisingly charming film. (I know what some of you are saying: “Yes. Lisa Marie, Seth Rogen ejaculating on his beard sounds really charming.” I know, I know. But the majority of the film is charming.) If you missed it when it came out the first time, give it another chance.
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