By Patrick Sullivan, Film & TV Editor
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen team up to form unlikely couple goals in this politically themed rom-com.
In April, the Extinction Rebellion protests finally broke through the longstanding dominance Donald Trump and Brexit have held over our news outlets during the past two years. And it’s simply brilliant to have the public eye focusing on the urgent science proving our world is quickly deteriorating due to humanity’s reckless excursions of late. Oh, wait, they’re discussing the protestors' right to disrupt London traffic? Turns out April’s Fools lasts all month after all.
There is a wonderful alignment with the release of Long Shot, the latest comedy directed by Jonathan Levin and starring Seth Rogen after their previous collaborations: the cancer-themed 50/50 (2011), a comedy more poignant than weepies sharing the same theme, and The Night Before (2015), which is more irreverently about Christmas parties. Long Shot, though, somehow nails how global politics and national agendas suffocate the most driven, intelligent and connected people and their solutions to climate change.
The film follows Fred Flarsky (Rogen), a uncompromising, liberal journalist, who winds up in an extraordinary turn of events as the speechwriter of presidential candidate, Charlotte Field (Theron), current Secretary of State, environmentalist, and, most importantly, Fred’s babysitter in their youth. Field goes on a global tour to convince the politicians of other nations of her ‘Bees, Trees, and Seas’ policy and cement her status as the favourite to succeed the current president, a famous TV actor played by Bob Odenkirk who still manages to be less ridiculous than the real-life incumbent he is based on.
Inevitably, the romantic sparks, which Flarsky has weirdly held onto since his youth, reignite in places such as Hanoi, Manila, and Cartagena - don’t worry, the irony of flying around the world is not missed here - and the all-important policy is eventually reduced down to simply ‘Bees’. It is strangely symptomatic of the crazy world we live in. The Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgård) is constantly linked romantically to Field and requests a steamy public dance to seal his country’s alliance. The real antagonist is Wembley News (clearly based on Fox News), led by the corrupt, rude Parker Wembley (a once-again brilliantly disguised Andy Serkis), who first buys out Flarsky’s indie publication and then blackmails Field, but throughout brings blatant, sidetracking, sexist commentary via his news channel.
And it’s wildly funny, especially with Charlize Theron in such brilliant form. For those who have only seen her in dramatic fares, such as Monster (2003), or thrillers like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), you might not have realised her best work has consistently been comedy, notably Young Adult (2011) and Tully (2018). The South African has the ability to balance the outrageous aspects of this film, such as averting a hostage situation while still high after a rave, with the more serious poise of being a credible politician. Yes, I would take Charlize Theron as President over most current world leaders, based on this performance.
Long Shot also ticks the compulsory boxes for a Seth Rogen classic. Plenty of weed references and smoking, a radical opening sequence where Fred gets half a swastika tattooed on his arm (it gradually evolves as the film progresses), and a truly gross-out moment where we watch him ejaculate into his own beard. In that moment, it becomes clear the title is a rather less graceful double entendre, albeit one I still enjoyed.
Brushing aside the surface politics and comedy, the film just wouldn’t work if the central premise - an unlikely romance between an ambitious success story and a well-meaning loose cannon - was half-hearted. Thankfully, somehow, Rogen and Theron pull it off. This is partially down to the inclusion of very self-aware jokes on their lack of suitability, led mostly by Charlotte’s campaign manager, Maggie (June Diane Raphael). My favourite of the bunch is an online poll of incompatible celebrity couples which the social media population would wholeheartedly reject, featuring none other than Danny DeVito and Kate Middleton. I agree, Danny wouldn’t settle.
There is no need, however, to kid yourself that any of this is revolutionary. It’s charming, well performed comedy reduced from the more consequential, real matters of climate change, sexism, and social pressures. But one of the smartest moves it makes is an addressing of the air of superiority in audiences these hyper-liberal films usually pander to.
Today's example of why we need more women in film criticism. I was pleasantly surprised by #LongShot's gender politics compared to the admonitions of most romcoms featuring workaholic women. I never imagined the guy from Knocked Up would make this movie. https://t.co/uv15raDZb8— Delia Harrington (@DeliaMary) May 2, 2019
As proven by recent elections and referendums, the entertainment industry making smarmy remarks or laughing at the expense of those they politically disagree with doesn’t help the cause. While most of Long Shot does just that, there’s a rather beautiful and surprising scene where a key character comes out as not only Republican, but a devout Christian as well. I doubt Donald Trump would make it that far though.
Long Shot is available on general release now.
Featured Image courtesy of StudioCanal
Can you believe Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen make a compatible screen couple?