REVIEW: Long Shot (2019)

13 year-old Fred Flarsky had a crush on his babysitter, 16 year-old Charlotte Field. Decades later, Fred (Seth Rogen) is a talented and left-wing journalist, and Charlotte (Charlize Theron) is a Secretary of State with eyes on the US Presidency. When Charlotte hires Fred to join her speech-writing team, their reunion sparks off a romance on the campaign trail.

On paper, Long Shot sounds more like a deliberate parody of a Hollywood romantic comedy than the actual film that it is. The premise is, after all, laughably implausible: not that either character could not grow up into their respective professions, but that they would then encounter each other in the manner that they do, or that a romance would so easily blossom. Theron and Rogen, however, both make it work through a combination of canny acting, smart writing, sensational comic timing, and sheer blunt force charisma.

It really is important to know that this film works so much better in practice than it does on paper, because I worry it suffers a genuine risk of being overlooked by audiences during its theatrical run. It is the kind of comedy that inspires big unexpected belly laughs from the gut. It boasts the sort of humour that regularly hits all bases. If you want a moment of wit, or a biting satire, or a well-placed pop culture reference, Long Shot regularly has you covered. Whether you want a romantic moment, or a horrifying gross-out gag, again it is wonderfully balanced I think to be most things to most viewers.

It is not perfect: the film struggles a little to set itself in an environment of American politics, and then soft-ball those politics to avoid pulling the film from its crowd-pleasing romantic focus. 10 years ago this strategy would likely glide by without comment, but America – indeed much of the world – is a more partisan place in 2019. The film also wobbles somewhat with Andy Serkis’ performance as a sleazy media mogul – more Robert Maxwell than Rupert Murdoch – attempts to control Theron’s smooth, professional Secretary of State. Serkis performs the role in grotesque prosthetic makeup for no reasonably explained reason, and turns the character into a ridiculous caricature at odds with the rest of the film.

The rest of the film sings. A prominent seam of sex-based comedy gives the romantic comedy elements a more earthy and believable facet. Rogen admittedly plays to type, but it’s a type that he is good at, and a character that gets a bit more depth than usual. Theron, however, easily emerges as the film’s greatest asset. We need to appreciate Charlize Theron more. She won an Oscar for playing drama in Monster. She came a pop culture icon playing action in Mad Max: Fury Road. In pretty much every film she appears in, she plays someone different, interesting, and multi-layered. As Charlotte she knocks it out of the park: controlled when she needs to be, vulnerable when the story demands it, and most importantly given her own opportunities to be funny without consigning her to Hollywood’s usual ‘straight sidekick’ position for female co-leads.

This is the strongest romantic comedy I have seen in some time, probably at least a few years. It simply works wonderfully, with characters appealing enough to overcome its flaws and a regular run of jokes that ensures you are at the very least constantly chuckling for its entire running time. I really hope it finds the audience it deserves.

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