REVIEW: Long Shot [2019]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 120 minutes | Release Date: May 3rd, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Lionsgate / Summit Entertainment
Director(s): Jonathan Levine
Writer(s): Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling

“Olive oil and mayonnaise”

I hate to use the word “refreshing” to describe a film lambasting the twenty-first century hellhole that is American politics, but it’s what comes to mind after watching Jonathan Levine‘s Long Shot. I’m not talking refreshing as far as its humor or rom-com machinations since both are blatant retreads. No, I mean the ability of Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah‘s script to let its satire of Fox News and Donald Trump populate the background with the nuance and intelligence gags like those on “Saturday Night Live” don’t possess via caricature circuses. Because let’s face it—you can only laugh at DC’s idiocy for so long before you realize you’re ultimately laughing at yourself for exploiting, proliferating, and ultimately normalizing it (and them) without actually helping to fix anything.

That’s not to say the film works to fix the problems facing our capital. This isn’t All the President’s Men. What it does do, however, is present the archetypes whose real life abstract inspirations might. I’m talking people with integrity and the potential to acknowledge how the compromises they’re told must be made to the money machine fueled by lobbyists and partisan media aren’t necessary if you’re willing to channel the public’s anger and callout the opportunists using their elected positions to line their own pockets at the detriment of their constituents. They arrive here in the form of a vulgarly funny and incorruptible journalist (Seth Rogen‘s Fred Flarsky) and an idealistic Secretary of State on the cusp of announcing her candidacy for President (Charlize Theron‘s Charlotte Field).

They conveniently know each other after having grown up as neighbors with Charlotte babysitting Fred while he was twelve. So when the latter finds himself unemployed after the hard-hitting independent publication he worked for is bought by the right-wing conglomerate he’s spent a career exposing as evil (with Andy Serkis‘ Parker Wembley at the head channeling Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes under prosthetics) and the latter discovers her sense of humor is polling the worst of all her character traits, she hires him as her new speech writer. It’s the perfect fit because he’ll be the voice of action when Charlotte’s team (June Diane Raphael‘s Maggie and Ravi Patel‘s Tom) tries to have her toe the Republican line and she’ll remember the fighter she was in her youth.

Ignore that she’s running on an environmental platform despite being in a Republican’s (Bob Odenkirk‘s brilliantly out-of-his-depth-and-uncaring President Chambers) cabinet with the GOP inexplicably providing her its endorsement as long as she makes some revisions because getting stuck in that rabbit hole of inconsistencies will distract you from the romance Levine and company have created. The filmmakers pretty much decide to utilize this easy political dividing point without caring that their scenario would be dead on arrival in real life. They’re able to get away with it because those political ramifications are in service of Charlotte and Fred’s relationship rather than the other way around. Will she become the woman her sixteen-year old self could be proud of or the woman willing to do anything for the throne?

The choice still somehow forces her to be the one to compromise despite tropes pretending to be gender-swapped on a macro level, but at least Sterling and Hannah present it as Charlotte choosing her preferred career path and not necessarily forcing an ultimatum between Fred and her dream. This distinction is a lot flimsier than it should be considering there’s plenty of pointed commentary on how much more difficult it is to be a powerful woman within America’s patriarchy than a powerful man, but it does still keep her in the driver’s seat so Rogen can be the one constantly wondering aloud about love to best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) while the latter thanklessly cheerleads like so many supporting actresses have throughout the rom-com genre’s history.

A big part of this unlikely romance’s success is Theron and Rogen’s chemistry. You really do get a sense that they like each other beyond superficial notions of attraction. To the film’s credit, it also doesn’t hinge everything on Fred being out of Charlotte’s league physically. Most of the lip service as to why they shouldn’t get together stems from the analytics-driven idea that America would think less of her if she paired up with someone so neurotically uncouth—not that she’d think less of herself. (It helps that her “celebrity” equal in Alexander Skarsgård‘s Canadian Prime Minister possesses zero chemistry with her in the most hilarious of ways.) Charlotte and Fred form an early bond that’s much deeper than looks as a welcome foundation to build upon.

So we’re watching as his butterflies soar within his stomach to make him question the happiness he feels for the first time in his life and her desire for something real to manifest after so many years of fabricating a hollow image America would like enough to vote her into the White House. Fred must get out of his own way (Lance is always telling him to “Be bold.”) and Charlotte must decide whether the job means more than why she wants the job in the first place. With some funny “Fox and Friends” doppelgangers pushing the envelope as far as women being forced to compromise themselves in order to get ahead, the messaging that Charlotte’s choice means more than simply love and career shines through.

Add some interesting eye-openers as far as our becoming too incensed about the far-left and far-right to realize our liberal friends aren’t all Communists and our Republican friends aren’t all sycophants to Trump’s walking, talking anti-American narcissist and there’s surprisingly a lot more worth content-wise than initially assumed. You can expect a bit of crassness and semen in the end since it’s a Rogen-produced film, but thankfully the other creatives steered the majority of the humor to the situational and political instead. Allowing Jackson Jr. and Raphael the room to be compassionate humans above clichéd supporting confidants who gravitate more towards sabotage than support goes a long way towards propping up the material too. We ultimately care about Fred and Charlotte beyond their union. That’s rare in rom-coms.


photography:
[1] Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) in LONG SHOT. Photo credit: Murray Close.
[2] Bob Odenkirk stars as ‘President Chambers’ in LONG SHOT. Photo by: Philippe Bossé.
[3] Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and Charlotte Fields (Charlize Theron) in LONG SHOT. Photo Credit: Phillipe Bossé.

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