The New York Times ran an arts section thinkpiece recently, mulling over the reasons romcoms no longer enjoy the traction they once had. Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot arrives as a reasonably witty riposte to such handwringing, and an acknowledgement of some of the issues such pieces have outlined – chiefly that lasting movie love, as with real love, requires hard work.
Until a final-act slackening of narrative control, Long Shot does a sound job of persuading us there might be a world in which a journalist-turned-speechwriter played by Seth Rogen would be a good match for Charlize Theron, the sparkling presidential candidate who also babysat Rogen as a teenager. Residual scepticism will have to be weighed against a consistent rate of laughs.
Levine and screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah have at least been taking notes from reality. Rogen’s Fred is introduced working undercover at a white supremacist gathering, his half-hearted Hitler salutes early reassurance we’re in for a good time; Theron’s Charlotte is touting an Ocasio-Cortesian green deal, keenly aware that any elevation of her voice will be attributed to hysteria by a rabidly rightwing commentariat. (Andy Serkis finds a worthy post-Gollum persona as the scabrous Bannon-alike targeting our heroine.) Levine, building on his good-natured The Wackness and 50/50, counters that reactionary harrumphing with an optimism that has been in short supply of late, both in the cinema and beyond. His more improvised setups exemplify the wider editorial faith in the ability of individuals to work things out for the best.
Old-school star power gets us some way there. Casting Theron as a statuesque alpha is no stretch, yet the fun here lies in watching this performer relax around Rogen in a way few recent projects have allowed her to do. (And unlike the TV producer played by Katherine Heigl in 2007’s less-than-gallant Knocked Up, she doesn’t sacrifice much for the privilege.) Belatedly, matters get tangled up in image issues more pertinent to film stars than filmgoers, and the pushing through of plot involves compromises on the comedy. The near-stock image of Charlotte nursing an open tub of Häagen-Dazs to the strains of Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love is presented with a jarring lack of irony.
Still, Levine succeeds in giving some genre tropes renewed sheen. Even a rote-seeming, Rogen-initiated drug trip pays off with the cherishable sight of Theron conducting state business with glitter in her hair.