Charlize Theron-Seth Rogen rom-com Long Shot drops the ball on politics
In movies, politics and romance rarely mix. That’s not because the two never intertwine, but rather because paying real attention to one side tends to give short shrift to the other. The one rare film that successfully combined the two was The American President, which seems to be somewhat of an inspiration for the new film Long Shot.
Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is a left-leaning journalist who revels in taking to task anyone with whom he disagrees. Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the current secretary of state, serving under President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), a former TV actor who managed to trip his way into the presidency. Fred and Charlotte are far apart professionally, but their personal link — she babysat for him when they were younger — leads to a renewed connection at a society gathering.
Charmed by him and impressed with his writing ability, Charlotte decides to take him on as a speechwriter in advance of her intended campaign for president, for which she hopes to gain the endorsement of Chambers. As the two travel the world touting Charlotte’s signature environmental initiative, unexpected sparks fly, complicating a relationship amid an already complex environment.
How successful the movie will be for each filmgoer depends on how much slack they’re willing to give the wholly unbelievable story. Pairing a schlubby guy with an attractive woman is a longtime tradition in both movies and TV, and director Jonathan Levine and writers Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling lean heavily into the concept. Jokes are made at Fred’s expense throughout the film, including his horrid sense of style and tendency toward clumsiness.
In spite of the off-kilter nature of the relationship, the film spends enough time with the two of them together to make their bond intriguing and romantic. Unfortunately, the filmmakers also decide to make a mockery out of almost every political moment in the film, which takes up a significant portion of the running time. Chambers, an obvious stand-in for Donald Trump, is treated as a clown throughout, but nothing Charlotte does as a politician is given any meaningful thought, either. Everything, including her environmental initiative, is explored on a surface level, to the point that it’s difficult to know who she is or what she stands for.
The unintended consequence of not taking the political side seriously is that Charlotte, despite a great performance from Theron, does not come across as a qualified candidate for president. President Chambers is a buffoon through and through, but what does it say about Field that she was willing to be the secretary of state for such an unqualified person? And how do her liberal leanings mesh with a president who is so obviously at odds with her agenda?
Add in the odd and unnecessary character of
Fox News Wembley News founder Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), and the film just doesn’t seem to know what it wants from its politics. It might have been more successful if Charlotte had been a high-powered business leader or something along those lines. Making her a candidate for president and then not giving her the gravitas of someone in that position undermines Charlotte as a character and the film as a whole.
Still, Theron and Rogen make for an oddly appealing couple, and their chemistry keeps the movie watchable. Supporting roles from June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel as Charlotte’s assistants, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Fred’s best friend, maintain the film’s comedy level, which remains on point despite the film’s failings. On the other hand, Alexander Skarsgård is wholly out of place as Canadian Prime Minister James Steward, who serves as romantic rival for Fred.
The filmmakers of Long Shot know their way around comedy and romance, but they bit off more than they could chew politics-wise. The audience should at least be given the courtesy of some political intelligence in a film that pays as much attention to that side as it does.