An improbably funny romantic comedy
Long Shot Rated: R for language. Running time: 125 minutes. 666 out of four
If you want to do good things in the world, should you stay pure or compromise to get things done? And if you do compromise, which is probably inevitable, what is the line that you don’t cross? And how do you even see it?
“Long Shot” is a rare romantic comedy that actually has ideas about something besides romance. It’s about politics and ethics and ambition — serious issues, which it handles comically, but not flippantly. Like the best love stories, funny or otherwise, this movie recognizes that being in love is an education, and that, if people are lucky, they choose the right teacher.
Along the way — as if effortlessly, and yet intelligently — “Long Shot” is an imaginative riff on our Trump-saturated world. It takes some aspects of our current national life and changes or exaggerates others, so that we get a funhouse version of 2019. What an awesome thought to realize that someday people will watch this movie and know what became of all this, and of us.
So Charlize Theron is the youngest Secretary of State in history, but the president (Bob Odenkirk) that she works for is a complete moron, a former TV star who used to play the president on a TV drama. He’s not planning to run for a second term — he’s just using the presidency to increase his wealth and launch a movie career — which leaves an open field for Charlotte (Theron), who has presidential ambitions of her own.
Don’t try to make sense of the political affiliations in “Long Shot.” The president is under the thumb of a Rupert Murdoch equivalent, a billionaire named Wembley (Andy Serkis), who runs a propaganda network called Wembley News. So the president seems to be a Republican. Yet Charlotte, who works for him, is traveling the world pushing an ambitious climate change initiative. I suppose we’re just to assume that this president is so asleep at the wheel that his cabinet secretaries are free to set policy on their own.
Charlotte is an example of success through compromise: She’s supporting and working for a man she doesn’t respect, but she’s trying to get good things done. Meanwhile, Fred (Seth Rogen) is a crusading leftwing journalist, working for a small weekly. When the weekly is bought out by Wembley’s media empire, he spontaneously quits, because he’s Charlotte’s opposite: Someone who won’t compromise and accomplishes little or nothing.
Much of the success or failure of “Long Shot” will depend on whether the audience can accept Theron and Rogen as a screen couple. It’s a bit of a stretch, made even stretchier by the untidy beard that Rogen has throughout the movie. There are times, when they kiss, that the thought crosses the mind: “Charlize, are you sure you want to do that?”
And yet, love has no power if it just gets you halfway across the street. The whole point of romantic comedy is to bridge worlds, and “Long Shot” does the one essential thing. It makes you believe that each has something in their moral nature that the other lacks, and needs. We might not know what the right balance is between them. But we see plainly and from the beginning what they slowly intuit, that this other person is holding the key.
In the meantime, what a terrific, high-stakes background for a romantic comedy — just the whole world, and the future of the whole world. There are parties, negotiations, terrorist incidents and constant travel: Sweden, France, the Philippines, Argentina. (In Buenos Aires, Rogen looks around a cocktail party and mutters, “I think I just saw the guy who killed my grandparents.”) “Long Shot” is one of the few romantic comedies to warrant a two-hours-plus running time.
The screenplay, by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, has a smart understanding of just how coarse (and honest) our current culture has become, a point that becomes important in the movie. At the same time, director Jonathan Levine understands that longing and the desire for connection are constants in human life. To that end, “Long Shot” beautifully uses, as a recurrent theme, Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love.”
In the movie, Rogen call it the best song, ever. And in the moment he says it, he’s right.
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron are the protagonists of a romantic comedy initially set in Washington, D.C.