REVIEW: Long Shot (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Lionsgate

The following is a review of Long Shot — Directed by Jonathan Levine.

It would appear that I have a soft spot for Jonathan Levine films. His is a name that immediately gets me excited to watch a film if his name is attached to it. I am one of the few who thinks Levine’s 50/50 is a genuine masterpiece of the genre within which it belongs. Furthermore, I think his 2015 holiday film The Night Before has the makings of a modern Christmas classic — in fact, it has already become a tradition for me to watch that film every Christmas. Likewise, I really enjoyed my time with Long Shot, which is Levine’s attempt at Rogenesque romantic comedy with a political twist. While I doubt that Long Shot will become as memorable to me as the aforementioned efforts, I think it is another example of a hip Levine film that goes down well.

Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot is the story of an unlikely romance between a top-tier politician and a foul-mouthed but charming and driven journalist disillusioned with the political system. The film stars Charlize Theron as Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State serving under an American President (played by Bob Odenkirk) known for his career in television. When the dim President reveals to Charlotte that he plans to step down, Charlotte convinces him to endorse her to take his place. Hoping to use an international tour meant to negotiate environmental revisions as a jumping board for her to build her presidential campaign, Charlotte enlists her team to find writers to tweak her speeches so that she appears more fun, which polls reveal is a weakness of hers.

This brings us to Fred Flarsky (played by Seth Rogen), a laid-back but brazen and politically motivated journalist, who, at the start of the film, has just finished an undercover story about American neo-Nazis. When he returns to work to have his article reviewed, his boss informs him that the website has been bought out by Parker Wembley (played by Andy Serkis), an influential but controversial media mogul who owns his own conservative network. Flarsky is vocal about his dislike for Wembley and he wants absolutely no part of this new venture for the website so he quickly decides to quit on the spot.

When Flarsky’s best friend, the far more successful Lance (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.), takes him out to a fancy party where Boyz II Men are scheduled to perform, Flarsky locks eyes with the Secretary of State. Fred and Charlotte know each other. She babysat him when they were young and he has had a crush on her ever since. Charmed by him and the way he makes her feel good about her past ambitions, Charlotte hires Flarsky to become her speech-writer, but their connection is stronger than initially thought and soon the odd couple falls for each other while on tour.

It is impossible to miss the allusions to the state of politics in Trump’s America. Some characters are clearly inspired by or based on President Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and Steve Bannon, and some of the jokes are obvious, knowing callouts of situations we’ve been in before. It lampoons the state of the political parties today and it openly addresses the difficulties for women in politics, though perhaps merely superficially.

This is not Seth Rogen’s first political satire film. The controversial The Interview was a dangerous but funny laugh-a-minute comedy that I still like more than I ever expected to. Long Shot isn’t that kind of political satire film. This is a cute blend of a socially-conscious romantic comedy, your average stoner comedy, and a political satire film that goes down easily without being too complicated or excessively strict in realism. It may not be completely politically sound, or a laugh-a-minute satire like a show such as Veep is, but the political satire on show in Long Shot is timely and sometimes quite funny, even if it is on-the-nose and perhaps ‘too real’ to enjoy, for some.

I was talking to a good friend of mine recently about our best memories of seeing Seth Rogen on-screen. For me, this discussion led to me reminiscing about the journey he has been on as an actor. Once merely viewed as the funny stoner or the funny overweight comedian, Seth Rogen has consistently proven himself as a likable, personable, and funny actor. He may have started as ‘that one guy’ from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but since then he has produced and starred in a moving cancer film and given an Oscar-worthy performance in the underseen Danny Boyle film Steve Jobs.

Long Shot is by no means Rogen’s best film or performance, but it is yet another evolution in the stardom of the actor, producer, director, and writer. Though the film uses a rom-com beauty and the beast-trope at the center of the narrative, I thought he was charming, affable, and presentable enough that I thought the film’s supposition that he was ‘not good looking enough for pollsters’ rang false. Now, is that miscasting or a recognition of the other rom-com trope of being ‘beautiful all along’? I think the latter is the case. Seth Rogen, a good-looking man even if the film pretends otherwise, is given the Cinderella-treatment. This is a roundabout way of saying that I’m not sure I’ve seen this exact romantic characterization for Rogen before.

Seth Rogen is a lot of fun to watch in Long Shot. Some of his early jokes reminded me of some of his laugh-out-loud moments in The Night Before, and I thought he blended in well in this hip romantic comedy. Still, though, Charlize Theron is the story here. By now we all know that Theron is a chameleon. She is damn near unrecognizable here when compared to her appearance in last year’s Tully, in which she gave an outstanding performance. What I’m not sure I’ve seen from Theron before though is the physical comedy in the film’s interrogation scene. Theron is hysterical, distinguished, and human in Long Shot. Theron and Rogen are supported by a star-studded supporting cast that includes a scene-stealing Alexander Skarsgård, a note-perfect Bob Odenkirk, a heavily made-up Andy Serkis, and an amusing O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot has its issues. I think the film is a little bit overlong and thus perhaps outstays its welcome. Some of the jokes are too obvious or rely too much on stereotypes or gross-out humor. There may also be a bit of an issue with mixed messaging here. There is one scene, in particular, that has left me slightly ambivalent. It is a scene between Jackson and Rogen in the third act of the film, which, to me, played somewhat like a studio-mandate to service all types of audiences, but that may be a misreading on first viewing. In any case, this scene, which preaches bipartisanship, felt like an odd fit in the film, to me.

Ultimately bereft of any risky proposition or messaging, Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot is unlikely to stand the test of time or be as memorable to me as some of his previous beloved efforts, but it is an amusing political acting vehicle for Charlize Theron to showcase her unreal and incredible range, as well as a fun but cursory satirization of Trump’s America. Still, though, this is my kind of romantic comedy.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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