The “is she really going out with him” premise of Long Shot, directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, feels familiar because it is. Rogen plays this role frequently. He’s found his niche as the lovable deadbeat with a heart of gold. Unlike Rogen’s previous vehicle with the same trope, Knocked Up (2007), starring Katherine Heigel and Seth Rogen, Long Shot’s characters and plot are plausible, endearing and funny.
Theron plays Secretary of State Charlotte Field, who has her eyes on the White House. Her image consultant, played by a hilarious Lisa Kudrow, tells her that she is not “fun enough” to relate to voters. After a chance encounter at a black tie fundraiser, Field hires Rogen’s Fred Flarsky, an unemployed journalist, to enhance her speeches with the fun quality she lacks. The complication? Flarsky is not over his boyhood crush on Field, who used to babysit him.
Rogen’s turn as Flarsky is deeper than his previous performances in similar roles. He plays Flarsky as someone committed to his values and to supporting Field achieve her ambitions. As a reporter, he’s known for emphatic, blunt opinions and someone who will go to great lengths to get a story. When his newspaper is bought by a conservative media conglomerate, he refuses the compromise offered by his boss. He quits instead because working for that company conflicts with his values. There’s comedic elements of boorishness and irreverence and deeper elements of change and progress. Theron and Rogen’s on-screen chemistry and talent contribute to the plausibility of the Type A Field falling for the buffoon Flarsky.
The script attempts political satire, which doesn’t land like the banter and pratfalls do. A would-be FOX news show with two male talk show hosts recite dialogue straight from the comments section of a news article. The lone female talk show host grins politely and nods. The president, played by Bob Odenkirk, is a sexist, clueless incompetent that wants to segue into a career in film after he leaves office. He recites scenes from his glory days as the president on a TV show and tells Field she as been a “good secretary.” The repartee between Field, Flarsky and the Secretary of State staff, by comparison, is bright and fast and funny.
What the script and direction gets right is the character development, particularly Flarsky. There’s a push-pull between Flarsky and his best friend, startup CEO Lance, played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr., which supports Flarsky’s growth and challenges him to change in order to be his best. Flarsky rises to this personal challenge in a way many may find surprising.
There’s intense television and films out right now with ensemble casts of beloved characters, an end to stories years in the telling where the Fate of the World, nay, the Galaxy, rests in the heroes’ hands. Game of Thrones is currently airing the final episodes and Avengers: Endgame was released last week. This reviewer, who adores larger than life stories and characters, acknowledges that high stakes entertainment can overwhelm and that a romantic comedy provides the welcome tonic of a low stakes escape. Long Shot, directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, fits this bill for viewers.