It’s rare that romcoms are both romantic and funny. Hurrah, then, for Long Shot, a potentially formulaic high-concept love story — she’s a high-flying politician! He’s a down-on-his-luck-writer! — given a boost by a modern edge mixed with old-school movie heart. It’s overlong and a tad tonally uneven, but Jonathan Levine’s film wins you over with a high gag-rate, a shaggy dog spirit, a keen eye for the political zeitgeist, colourful supporting characters and an engaging chemistry generated by its two stars.
Long Shot’s meet cute is at a party where recently unemployed journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) bonds with first love and Secretary Of State Charlotte Field (Theron) over old times and ’90s ephemera (hello, Boyz II Men). About to run for President, Field hires Fred as a speechwriter to increase her perception rating with voters. Rogen and Theron might seem an odd couple on paper, but they make it convincing as they fall for each other on a world tour to drum up support for Charlotte’s eco-initiative. By the time they slow dance to Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’ in Argentina, then come under a hail of bullets in a political insurrection, Fred and Charlotte’s romance is charming and disarming, sweet and true. In short, they are smitten.
The point-making never gets in front of the laughs.
The film’s antics flirt with implausibility. In reality, a Secretary Of State might not be allowed to conduct an international hostage negotiation loaded on MDMA but Theron quietly talking down a kidnapper while out of her head is a delight. But it’s not a stupid flick. Long Shot has astute observations about the sexist pressures on women at work, the incestuous triangle between media, big business and politics, and the over-reliance on optics to shape a candidate’s image. But the point-making never gets in front of the laughs: swastika tattoos, two painfully hilarious pratfalls, Fox News boors, Jennifer Aniston and the best jizz joke since There’s Something About Mary all hit the target.
Levine, who directed Rogen in The Night Before, and screenwriters Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) get so much of what makes a great romcom right. The subsequent obstacles that threaten the couple’s happiness — Fred’s steadfast principles, Charlotte’s White House ambitions — emerge believably from character rather than plot machinations. The central two are also surrounded by colourful supporting characters who make their mark: June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s analyst (“You’re a punch-up writer, not Maya Angelou,” she tells Fred); Andy Serkis playing a white-haired Rupert Murdoch-alike; Alexander Skarsgård as the Canadian Prime Minster who looks the perfect package but is completely devoid of charm; Bob Odenkirk as a President leaving the White House to pursue the “prestige” of movies; while O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred’s suave wingman practically steals the first third from under Rogen’s nose.
But Long Shot gets its thrills from its central pairing of Rogen’s shambolic charms and Theron’s dominating presence, and how those two energies shape each other. Sporting a hideous neon windcheater, Flarsky is squarely in Rogen’s slacker wheelhouse but with a tad more maturity this time round. Theron, of course, has played comedy for Seth MacFarlane and Jason Reitman, but never more appealingly than here, etching Charlotte as an empowered ceiling breaker who discovers the pleasures of actually watching Game Of Thrones rather than being briefed on it. The film ends on a note of high wish-fulfilment but, for once, Rogen and Theron make you feel the last-minute dash across town is worth it.