(2019—Director: Jonathan Levine)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
“Is he high?” … “He is wasted, and he’s also just stupid.” — U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), to staffer Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael), regarding Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen)
Potential spoilers below
Director Jonathan Levine spent the first half of the 2010s helming the near-awards contending dramedy 50/50 (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies (big fan when I saw it). Following the cancellation of his medical drama series Rush ten episodes in, Levine’s output began to suggest a career slump—one involving works of decidedly outrageous subject matters to try and attract the attention of moviegoers. Levine’s latest, the political and slightly-stoner romantic comedy Long Shot (scripted by Dan Sterling of The Interview and Liz Hannah of The Post) proves that his slump only continues.
Rom-coms live and die by their central couple, and Rogen and Ms. Theron manage to rise up to the task. Rogen doesn’t transform himself much in portraying Fred, yet his crass and unsophisticated conduct, coupled with his character’s journalistic enthusiasm, complements the stressed professionalism of Theron as Charlotte fairly well, albeit to naughty levels. Furthermore, the rash and passionate bonding of personalities soon appropriately faces doubt in how the relationship could press on given the couple’s current scenario, not to mention potential future circumstances.
Adding color to the proceedings are a few highly-concentrated yet scene-stealing supporting performances. Towards the start and towards the end, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. commands the laughs as Lance, Fred’s career-secure best friend (among other things, as Fred shockingly discovers). As Jackson steps aside in the middle bulk, June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s main staffer Maggie serves to sway Charlotte from committing to taking on Fred. Maggie’s scene where she tricks Fred into revealing his intimate relationship with Charlotte is particularly well-written. Elsewhere, Andy Serkis undergoes an astonishing transformation to become international media mogul and Rupert Murdoch stand-in Parker Wembley. That said, I could’ve used more screentime from Serkis, Bob Odenkirk as Pres. Chambers, and Alexander Skarsgård as Canadian P.M. James Steward (with his awkward laugh). (Sidenote: Skarsgård was great in The Hummingbird Project from a few months back.)
After making adequate efforts to draw distinct personalities to inhabit typical rom-com roles, writers Sterling and Ms. Hannah run out of gas. Soon enough, they remind me of modern cinematic comedy’s main flaw—that padding the premise with vulgarity and F-word dialogue peppering is never enough to help a comedy premise reach its fullest potential. The forward momentum in Long Shot’s latter portions feels noticeably gutted once one particularly wretched and fluid-based sight gag gets introduced and shown. That leaves the fast-tracked and expected rom-com conclusion to simply go through the motions—not that director Jonathan Levine adds anything visually interesting elsewhere, apart from one pull-back through a window and a funny crash zoom to close the MDMA-influenced hostage negotiation scene. Otherwise, it’s bland “shot, reverse shot, shot, reverse shot” for much of the proceedings.
Lastly, I write the following with little regard for one’s political leanings: Hollywood’s manner lately of spoofing conservatives, Christians, and Republicans as clueless ingrates, and Fox News hosts as sexist pigs (with Serkis as Wembley pulling the strings), seems to always come off as petty, detached from reality, and—most importantly—not funny. See, when Adam McKay portrayed such figures as spineless expendables and conniving power-seekers in last year’s Vice, it was gratuitous yet it also derives from some semblance of an understandable viewpoint, not to mention how one can find both on either side of a given spectrum. Here, it’s just pathetic.
So ultimately, we’re left with a solidly-intriguing romantic comedy premise whose execution peters out as it approaches the climax due to lazy vulgarity, further hindered by a political-cultural perspective that’s tenderly smothered onto the audience’s faces. I started watching Long Shot, hoping to have discovered a comedic gem by the end. Once the credits started rolling, I only wanted to forget about it and, oddly yet thankfully enough, the film made it quite easy for me to do just that and to go re-watch last year’s Game Night (see #8 here) afterwards.
What a time to live in America.
(Parental Note: Long Shot has been rated R by the MPAA “for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use”. It is also rated 15 by the BBFC for “strong language, sex references, sex,” and “drug misuse”, and rated O (Morally Offensive) by the Catholic News Service for containing “skewed values, semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, benignly viewed drug use, much sexual humor, including sight gags, a blasphemous expression, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, at least one milder oath, and pervasive rough and crude language.”)
(Plot Summary: Long Shot starts off with the intelligent, poised, and accomplished U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). Her presidential ambitions get fast-tracked when her boss and former TV star, Pres. Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), informs her of his plan to step down after one term to seek movie stardom. Charlotte unexpectedly runs into Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a disgruntled and recently-unemployed journalist who had a crush on her when she was his childhood babysitter. Against the advice of her staffers Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter. Long-held mutual attractions get rekindled as they travel the world to promote environmental policies Charlotte hopes will serve as the foundation of her future presidency.)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.