Long Shot is a really great and welcome surprise; here is a studio comedy that aims for the wit and optimism of The West Wing wrapped in the heart of a classic “lovers under fire” story. The strength of the film is its ability to touch on a variety of issues, from the nature of personal lives in politics, journalistic integrity, and compromise, but its anchored in the wonderful chemistry between Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. The two bring a ton of vulnerability to the role, and the film is more or less putting together different situations in which they can interact.
Fred Flarky (Seth Rogen) is a recently unemployed journalist who quits his job when the newspaper he works for is sold to the corrupt media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Searching for a new opportunity, Flarsky is reunited with his childhood crush Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), the Secretary of State who is planning a Presidential run and seeking the endorsement of the current President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). Field hires Flarsky as her speechwriter, and sparks fly as their passions are tested by their respective responsibilities.
While there are certainly elements of national and international politics that are simplified for the sake of the film, there is a genuinely fascinating story here. Field is tested not only by media scrutiny and the President as she scrambles to get his endorsement, but by her own ability to compromise; on the other hand, Flarsky is an idealistic journalist with a definite sense of right and wrong, and has never had to compromise for anything. It’s a great moral dynamic, and despite some easy gags the film has a great sense of how to mirror current events in a comedic way.
It also works because of the sincerity of the performances; there’s a fairly standard romantic comedy formula used here, from the frantic moments of passion to the “all is lost” moments, but the film is able to present these moments without irony, which is appreciated. To his credit, Rogen is able to play Flarsky as bumbling, but not incompetent, and is surprisingly convincing as a strong willed journalist, and Theron perfectly captures the struggle of trying to do good work under the media spotlight. The childhood link between the characters, which could have come off as unbearably cheesy, is actually the perfect thematic bridge, as Flarsky always remembers Field as a passionate and morally upright leader.
Despite what certain elements of the marketing may suggest, there’s actually not a lot of raunchiness or zaniness here, so when the film’s crazier scenes kick in they feel all the more shocking; one drug-fueled party and its aftermath is one of the film’s most cleverly staged and edited sequences, and the most outrageous sex comedy towards the end is not only integral to the plot, but also to the thematic core. It’s sort of remarkable that the film is able to able to play it straight so much; there’s a lot of predictable moments that work because they’re so damn charming.
I’d also be silly not to mention the outstanding supporting cast, which is filled with a great number of actors who come in and own their screen time. Bob Odenkirk is having a blast as the President of the United States (a former television actor who plans to break into movies), and his moral limpness and general incompetence make a great foil for Theron. I was also a huge fan of O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Seth Rogen’s best friend. Jackson appears in all the right moments to push Rogen’s character towards a big moment or decision, and their confrontation towards the end is a the exact sort of boldly clever moments that you just don’t see in movies like these.
From its brilliant opening scene (that I wouldn’t dare spoil) to its cutesy credit tag, Long Shot is a delightful collection of biting satire, amusing pop culture references, and great performances that make for a modern take on a classic story. I think I was most charmed by the optimism; its a film with big ideas, and while it doesn’t seek to fix all the issues of the world, it does challenge us to think about them and believe that we could do better if we thought about things differently. Grade: B+