Sometimes I go back to Kevin Smith’s debut comedy Clerks and think about how forlorn Dante can still pine for his old high school flame and speak so matter-of-factly about sex and women as lovers to his current girlfriend, Veronica. Then I take his rationale on female expectations and apply it to romantic comedies. As a man that’s seen more romantic comedies than most would care to admit, I don’t expect high art, Avant Garde cinema. All I need is to love the characters as he/she/they navigate through the frivolity of dating and the great quest to find “The One” — if that indeed is the endgame.
Regardless of the situation we almost always get the honeymoon ending. Women love that stuff. I prefer the afterglow; to see what happens after the honeymoon is over. But what’s next isn’t as romantic as seeing the relationship take shape in comedic fashion. That’s well and good, but if the chemistry between the protagonists doesn’t click, chances are you won’t buy the romance.
Long Shot is a romantic comedy that shouldn’t work because it plays into the whole slovenly guy paired with a head-turning leading lady. It’s become a tired staple of the genre and has been done numerous times on the small screen by having fat guys with attractive wives. Our bedraggled beau is Seth Rogen, back as a romantic lead having previously made the sex comedies Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Those seem like a lifetime ago. Clearly Rogen has grown up and reshaped his disheveled appearance, right? Nope. Just a regular guy-schlub. He plays Fred Flarsky, a far-left leaning journalist whose outlet has been acquired by a right-wing media mogul. Out of work and depressed, his best friend, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), looks to cheer him up in half-baked fashion before hitting up a fundraiser event with guest performers Boyz II Men.
Now the guys behind “Motownphilly” had a profound influence on 13-year-old Fred when he was being looked after by 16-year-old Charlotte Field, his babysitter. Their music and the pop hits of the day were background noise as Fred made googly eyes at Charlotte. One night he makes his move and kisses her. Awkwardness follows as Fred stands at attention. A part of him, anyway. Some 25 years later their paths cross at the fundraiser. The babysitter is now the Secretary of State (Charlize Theron).
Their fortuitous reunion comes at an opportune time. Charlotte is planning to run for the highest office in America and needs someone to punch up her speeches so they’re witty, not witless. Fred needs a job. In traditional romantic comedy fashion we know that Fred and Charlotte’s platonic relationship will transition to become something more.
On paper a Rogen/Theron romantic pairing sounds ridiculous. Him and her? No way. If not for the babysitting flashback, which drops the need for a meet-cute, I would agree. But their characters have history. He may have been a pudgy middle-schooler and she a high-schooler with student president aspirations, and the age differences may have felt huge, but as adults the age disparity is immaterial. So a Fred and Charlotte romance is more likely than Lloyd Christmas and Mary Swanson in Dumb and Dumber.
Having graduated from the Judd Apatow School of Comedy with their collaborations on TV’s Freaks & Geeks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the already-mentioned Knocked Up, and too many to name Apatow-produced comedies, Seth Rogen is at a transitional stage where he can still play the schlub while also trying drama projects (Steve Jobs). For Charlize Theron, who transformed herself into a monster and was a complete and total bad-ass as Imperial Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road), her film career is more prolific and varied. She’s even done comedy, though Long Shot is her first legit romantic comedy.
His comedy experience and her acting talent combine forces and generate enough chemistry to make the Fred and Charlotte romance plausible. At a distance director Jonathan Levine, working with Rogen for a third time (50/50, The Night Before), makes a farce of the political spectrum and news media. Charlotte’s boss, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), resides in the White House after a television career that included him playing the president on a hit series. Parker Wembley, a Roger Ailes-inspired media mogul that purchased Fred’s newspaper, makes your skin crawl on appearance alone. I had to wait until the end credits to see who played such a lecherous creature. The comedy shies away from hot-button topics that percolate the current news cycle and sticks with a singular initiative. Charlotte’s platform is the environment, just as it was when she was sixteen.
Long Shot adheres to formula and is sure to offer something for men and women in equal measure. It has drug-fueled shenanigans and physical comedy well within Seth Rogen’s wheelhouse. Pop culture nods, including dancing to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” made famous in Pretty Woman. The supporting friend that listens offers advise (a scene-stealing O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Then come the complications that arise from working in politics. Scrutiny from media and a public that won’t take to a woman as powerful as Charlotte Field falling for a guy that looks like he went thrift shopping at Goodwill.
Romantic comedies are at a weird impasse right now in terms of highs and lows. Theatrical releases have stagnated over the years; the days of a Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks hit romance have passed. Long Shot is a funny throwback to romantic convention to the likes of Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally) and Howard Deutch (Some Kind of Wonderful); a funny fairy tale of teenage crushes that manifests again all grown up.
Rated R, 125 minutes.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Bob Odenkirk
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!