Review: ‘Long Shot’ moves rom-coms a step forward
The romantic comedy is one of Hollywood’s oldest genres, but like many things around the world, it was born in misogyny. During Hollywood’s first few decades, studios geared many movies towards female audiences, as they figured women would spend money on frivolous films while men earned money at work. That’s why screwball comedies with romantic elements became so prevalent, and eventually coalesced into romantic comedies. As the world became incrementally more progressive, rom-coms responded by including feminist overtones—especially the plot point of a woman seeking a position of monarchical power. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s Long Shot puts a democratic spin on that familiar story.
Charlize Theron is Charlotte Field, the U.S. Secretary of State and future Presidential candidate. Seth Rogen is Fred Flarsky, former journalist and future unemployment candidate. They knew each other as kids, but they’ve led their lives in different directions, and into very different positions of power. When they reunite by chance at a private Boyz II Men show (oh, the lifestyles of the wealthy), Charlotte decides to hire the down-on-his-luck Fred as a speechwriter for her campaign. What an unprecedented meet-cute!
The ease with which Fred rises from unprofessional journalist to speechwriter for one of the most important women in the world is preposterous, but director Jonathan Levine helps make it work. Levine’s last movie, underrated Christmas classic The Night Before, captured tonal levity by operating just outside the realm of realism: that way, Levine could tell a grounded story while still playing with fantastical elements. He engages in a similar practice with Long Shot. His sense of how to manipulate camera movement for comedic effect is palpably clever, and it adds a dash of surrealism to the movie that makes its unrealistic moments funny and forgivable. It’s quite a recipe for a good time.
Charlotte and Fred’s unlikely relationship—both business and romantic—does pose a problem, though. With everything working out so nicely for them at nearly every turn, Long Shot goes long stretches devoid of conflict. The tried and true rom-com conflict of “will they/won’t they” becomes a repetitively reassuring “of course they will!” from an early point in the movie. Of course, most rom-coms don’t try to fool us with the pretense that its protagonists might not end up together, but Long Shot makes their happy ending a little too easily attainable. To borrow a rom-com cliché: it’s like watching someone run through an airport to confess their love when you know the plane’s not taking off for hours.
In the absence of a driving conflict, much of Long Shot becomes waiting for the next comedic bit, but that’s acceptable when the comedic bits are so uproariously funny. Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling’s screenplay trades pop culture references for winking political satire, and when that winking is being done by the likes of Seth Rogen and O’Shea Jackson Jr., laughs are inevitable. Charlize Theron proves once again that she’s just as excellent of a comedic talent as she is an action hero and prestige performer. She’s hilarious in the movie’s key set pieces, particularly one in which she has to handle a hostage negotiation while tripping on ecstasy. You know, politics.
Long Shot is also another example of Seth Rogen starring in and having creative control over a movie that uplifts non-toxic masculinity. His Fred Flarsky is aware of his internalized misogyny, cognizant of women’s issues, and non-threatened by female power. Long Shot may not structurally differ from every rom-com you’ve ever seen, but there’s no denying that it feels like another step forward for the genre.