Let me preface this review that I rarely go to R-rated comedies, particularly those with Seth Rogen in it. In fact, the last movie I saw Seth Rogen in a movie is probably 50/50 a decade ago with Joseph Gordon-Levitt which interestingly enough is also directed by Jonathan Levine. Yet there’s something about the story that appealed to me, primarily Charlize Theron‘s casting, and trailer made me laugh.
Speaking of miss Theron, her beauty and intellect suits her role perfectly here. She plays Charlotte Field, an accomplished politician, the youngest secretary of state who’s running for president. In contrast, Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a talented and free-spirited journalist who’s perhaps too idealistic for his own good. We first see Flarsky in an undercover stint involving white supremacist group, an ordeal that could’ve easily cost him his life. When he later finds out his paper is being bought by a media magnate Parker Wembley (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis, clearly lampooning Rupert Murdoch), Fred immediately quits on principle.
When Fred and Charlotte meet, it’s not exactly a meet-cute but it’s definitely a memorable one involving 90s R&B icons Boyz II Men. Apparently she was his babysitter in his early teens and she has been his crush ever since. That meet-up leads to Fred being hired by Charlotte herself as her speechwriter, despite the protests of her staff members Tom (Ravi Patel) and Maggie (June Diane Raphael). Maggie distrusts Fred from the start and she couldn’t fathom seeing her glamorous boss dates the likes of him. Charlotte feels that Fred would provide a fresh voice and improves her more serious image with his youthful idealism and in a way, he does.
I’m glad there are more of these unconventional rom-com being made, as last February we saw Isn’t It Romantic? that’s both a spoof and an homage to the romantic comedy genre. As the title suggests, Charlotte is a long-shot romantically for someone like Fred, while Charlote is a long-shot presidential contender (playing on the notion that America still isn’t ready for a woman president). For any rom-com to work, even the most unconventional one, there would have to be chemistry between the two romantic leads. I’d say Charlize and Seth have a good rapport and comedic chemistry, but to say they have strong romantic chemistry would be a stretch. That said, there’s enough going for them that made me curious about their journey.
Writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah make a point that even the most beautiful & successful people do get lonely. Theron displays a certain vulnerability that makes her relatable despite her goddess-like appearance. She also has comedic chops and made Charlotte likable enough that it’s easy to root for her. Rogen’s Fred takes a while to warm up to, even if you can’t help empathize with his fish-out-of-water experience as he goes on the road with Charlotte. Undoubtedly there’ll be friction when two people with few things in common are suddenly thrown together, but how Fred views the world is quite problematic. Most politically-inclined movies out of Hollywood are usually far-left leaning, and this movie is no different. But I appreciate that the movie doesn’t shy away from showing how people with extreme worldview inherently hold prejudices. There’s a particularly in a memorable exchange between him and his loyal friend Lance (a terrific O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) that draws laughs, but that topic is definitely thought-provoking.
The R-rating is warranted given the amount of sexual, drug-related humor and profanity. There’s also a vulgar scene where I’m glad I averted my eyes, let’s just say it conjured up a scene from a classic R-rated rom-com There’s Something About Mary. The amount of physical comedy here is so fantastical that it’s practically cartoonish as in real life those incidents would result in him being seriously injured or dead. While the film comments on the tricky, slippery nature of politics, especially as an underdog AND as a woman, at times the way it’s presented are too ludicrous or too simplistic. Some of the supporting characters are downright cartoonish as well. Bob Odenkirk plays the TV-star turned US president who yearns to be a movie star, and Alexander Skarsgård relishes his comedic muscle as a hunky-but-shallow Canadian PM.
Despite the flaws, I find myself enjoying the movie for the most part. Some of the pop-culture jokes were funny, especially when it mentions a huge superhero blockbuster movie that’s still very much on top of the box office when this one comes out. There are some predictable beats and over-the-top scenes, but Levine managed to keep the movie engaging throughout. The ending is actually more in line with a typical rom-com in that it’s a crowd-pleasing, fantastical wish-fulfillment. It doesn’t exactly ring true, but at least it was an amusing surprise. I’d say if you’re a fan of raunchy comedies, you’d likely have fun with this. But if this sub-genre isn’t your thing, you might still enjoy this if you like the cast.
Have you seen LONG SHOT? Let me know what you think!