The most important thing we can say about Long Shot, a classic goddess-falls-for-normie romantic comedy directed by Jonathan Levine, is that it’s extremely earnest and also incredibly self- aware – almost to a fault. But that self-awareness, while thickly layered onto the film at times, is ultimately its savior. What could have been a big pile of cliches neatly and sometimes smartly avoids or subverts them. And the one film that seems to have informed this earnestly self-aware approach comes out of Seth Rogen’s own resume: the 2007 Judd Apatow-directed Knocked Up, in which Rogen’s stock pothead-loser character somehow made ice goddess Katherine Heigl fall deeply in love with him. It’s a film that represented a turning point for Heigl’s own career, not least because she infamously spoke out against the storyline and what she considered its more sexist aspects, in which a smart and accomplished woman was shown to be susceptible to the charms of a man who didn’t seem capable of offering her much. Heigl got a lot of flack for speaking out against her own film and Rogen has said that he found her commentary disappointing and hurtful. Sitting through this film, it’s hard not to wonder if Rogen ultimately thought her concerns and criticisms were correct, since Long Shot seems designed to respond to them.
Yes, Rogen’s Freddy is a Brooklyn pothead who doesn’t seem to own any clothing that isn’t a brightly colored track suit. And yes, the film positions this character as a viable romantic option not only for Charlize Theron, but for Charlize Theron as the Secretary of State, pushing the divide between the two characters miles further apart than the one that separated slacker Rogen from over-achiever Heigl. Does it work? Actually, yes. There are two reasons why: the film’s very awareness of the implications of its story (all stunningly beautiful and accomplished women ultimately just want a fun under-achiever to teach her how to relax) and the relaxed, funny, nuanced take on the two mains, which allow them to cultivate a natural sort of chemistry that prevents the film’s conceits from showing too much strain.
But Rogen’s no slacker or loser. Instead, he’s a fiery leftist journalist railing against corporate corruption and the toothlessness of our modern political figures. The role allows him to play the kinds of lovable doofuses Rogen specializes in, while giving him a smart, deeply moral core that allows him to stand toe-to-toe with the over-achieving goddess he’s had a crush on since she was his babysitter. Theron has an even heavier load to handle, as someone who’s supposed to be extremely accomplished and flawlessly beautiful, but also somehow relatable and within the grasp of Rogen’s attentions. She’s at her best when she gets to play the smart, fun characters rather than the pedestal-dwelling goddess types; an archetype she’s worked to avoid or subvert herself throughout her career. The two of them have an easy sort of chemistry from the jump, which goes a long way toward making the film enjoyable and the story palatable if not exactly believable.
It’s pretty to look at, in a way romantic comedies should be, we think. It’s a globe-trotting story with a lot of beautiful locations, elegant parties and, in Charlize’s case, eye-catching fashion, exquisitely suited and fitted to her. Alexander Skarsgard makes an amusing appearance as a Trudeau-like Canadian prime minister with some decidedly bimbo undertones. It’s a quiet but funny performance – especially when he lets slip the natural laugh his advisors trained him not to use. The film tries to make these little jokes about the falseness of the modern political scene and when it sticks to things like over-anxious advisors or the futility of trying to change things, it’s fine. You wouldn’t want a rom-com of this sort to try and delve too deeply into weighty topics. Unfortunately, the third act hinges on one character “coming out” as a Republican and offering the kind of “Liberals are too judgmental and politics would be better if people just got along” game-changing speech that sounds like something someone overheard at a Hollywood party and put into the script. If that wasn’t groan-worth enough, the climax of the film hinges on a … well, climax – with decidedly There’s Something About Mary undertones. We’re not prudes about that sort of thing, but it really did come across like a first-draft joke that should have been finessed by the final draft. It felt unusually sophomoric in a film that otherwise does an admirable job of making smart character and storytelling choices.
Long Shot isn’t really what we’d call hilarious, but it’s fun, sweet and pleasant, with two leads who really do have great chemistry with each other. What more could you ask from a rom com?