Long Shot doubles down on compromise
Midway through Long Shot there’s a scene in which a devout liberal finds out that someone they care about is a devout conservative. The liberal loses his mind while the conservative admonishes him for being so reactive. The conservative explains why he holds his beliefs and further tells his liberal friend that the reason he never brought it up before was because he knew that politics talk could have ended their friendship. It’s a wonderful, situationally bold scene, and it’s one that I fully expect to evoke at least a handful of think-pieces as to why Long Shot is problematic for “going soft on the wrong people.” But a deeper look would indicate that no one gets a particularly soft or hard treatment in the lens of Johnathan Levine’s new comedy. There’s no political statement being made here which could be tied to any sort of party allegiance. No, this is a film about compromise — about teamwork. Be it in a relationship, at a job, or on the political spectrum, there’s a necessity for compromise, otherwise it’s just a bunch of cathartic heel-digging that dashes any hope of progress.
As a political cynic, this warmed my heart to no end.
As a comedy fan, I was left a little wanting. We’ll get to that in a second.
Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a recently unemployed journalist (think Vice) whose immovable moral standards often leave him in ethical quandaries. When he was a child, his babysitter was Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), a brilliant, kind, beautiful woman who is now the Secretary of State. Their last interaction was embarrassing to say the least, and the memory of it haunts Fred to this day. After losing his job, Fred’s well-off best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) offers to take him out for a night on the town, culminating in a charity event at which Boyz II Men would be performing. It’s at this benefit that Fred reunites with Charlotte. And it’s after this benefit that Charlotte, now preparing for a presidential run, hires Fred as a speech writer. The two form a fast friendship which soon becomes a romance. Unfortunately for the new couple, now is a time when women in the political spotlight must adhere to an excessive list of image demands, and for Charlotte to be dating a schlub like Fred is career suicide.
The typical “will they/won’t they” is replaced by “can they/should they” which makes for a very digestible romance. Even though the two are a terrible mismatch on the surface, their chemistry is undeniable. Credit to both Theron and Rogen in this department. Somehow it makes sense that these two characters would fall in love. Moreover, it’s easy to root for them. It’s not like Knocked Up, where there is less than no chemistry between the stars (I still cringe at the scene where they tell one another “I love you” and it’s just plain embarrassing). Luckily for Knocked Up, it’s too funny of a film to be sunk by an inert romance. For Long Shot, it’s the romance which does the heavy lifting while the humor is lacking.
This isn’t to say that the film is unfunny. In fact, the film is very funny, but the humor is caught between two worlds. With Fred being a windbreaker-clad stoner, and Charlotte being the picture of class, much of the humor draws from issues of propriety. In each others’ worlds, each is a fish out of water, but the idea only works on paper. Long Shot can’t decide whether it takes place in the real world or an absurdist parody of it. We are told that Fred’s image is more than enough to sink a presidential campaign while also assuring us that Charlotte appearing on the news while debilitatingly high on ecstasy, dressed in club wear, and covered in glitter is not. At times the film is a satire, aiming to skewer the unfair standards we place on women in the public eye, and the free pass we give to male politicians to behave like animals. At other times it’s a madcap parody, complete with pratfalls, poop jokes, and characters that behave like the supporting cast of a Zucker/Abrahams film.
On a gag-by-gag basis it works, but overall it feels incomplete. Without a base level of reality to fall back on, a film that could have been bursting with character-driven comedy and biting satire is instead an assembly of gags in service of a predictable story. That said, it’s an enjoyable story, and the aforementioned chemistry between the leads is a joy to watch. So much so that I lament being unable to see this with my significant other. This is a great date movie, and it’s one that is raunchy enough not to feel lame or chintzy.
A highlight of the film is the interplay between Rogen and Jackson. They make a great comedic duo in the handful of scenes that they share. I hope that this happens more in the future, perhaps in a film less interested in broad appeal. There’s a very funny dark comedy brewing in their rapport, and I hope they utilize it in future projects. Heck, if it happens, Charlize Theron should be in it too. She’s excellent here, and she can handle both the satirical material and the goofball stuff as well as anybody. There really is nothing she can’t do.
Filling out the cast we have Bob Odenkirk, a former tv star turned President who wishes to pass on re-election and make the jump to film; June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s all-business (well, mostly business) assistant; Ravi Patel as Charlotte’s assistant’s assistant, whose enthused performance is hurt by the nagging notion that “subservient Middle Eastern quipster” is the next “token black guy,” and that we should probably grow out of it with haste; Alexander Skarsgård as a Justin Trudeau stand-in whose attempts at wooing Charlotte are all but arranged by image consultants. Andy Serkis also appears under an insane amount of prosthetic makeup as a grimy businessman who represents the excesses of capitalism. It occurs to me that I don’t really have a sense of what Serkis actually looks like. So that’s fun.
Oh wait! Lil Yachty makes a cameo too! He shows up, assures the audience that he is in fact Lil Yachty, and then leaves without having any function at all. He has literally two lines, neither of which matter beyond giving Long Shot an Apatow-ian starfucker feel. We get it, famous people, you know other famous people.
At the end of the day, Long Shot is a funny film with its heart and mind in the right place. The message of compromise is a valuable one, and its function as a crowd-pleasing date movie cannot be denied.
Call me when you realize that the double entendre of a title is actually a triple entendre.
Long Shot opens in Philly theaters today.