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Monday, May 06, 2019

Long Shot

In recent years, the romantic comedy has largely been dormant, due to years of forgettable entries.  But, there is a small movement to try to bring them back into form.  We had The Big Sick in 2017, which was the first sign of life the genre had experienced in a long time, and then last year, we had Crazy Rich Asians.  Now we have Long Shot, which definitely doesn't do anything new, but it stands out because the script is a bit smarter than you might expect.

Yes, this is another movie about a guy who is a slob and a goofball who somehow manages to get the attention of a beautiful and intelligent woman.  To be fair, the guy's intelligent, too.  He's just much more unorthodox.  But, this time, the screenplay is smart enough to at least give the couple things to talk about so we can at least see the interest and the connection between them.  The movie is also smart enough to let the woman have power in the relationship, and keep her identity.  She doesn't just drop all of her ideals and ambitions so she can be with this guy.  In fact, in a little bit of a twist, the guy is struggling to convince her that she should stay true to her convictions.  That's because the woman is the Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron).  She's planning to run for President in 2020, and a big part of the film deals with Charlotte wanting to please people in order to get their support, while at the same time not selling out her ideals.  The guy she hooks up with is Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a struggling journalist who just walked away from his job after he learned the paper was purchased by a multi-million corporation that he despises.

Charlotte and Fred talk a lot in the movie, and it's very valuable to us in the audience that what they talk about is generally interesting, and often quite funny.  They meet while both attending a charity event.  He immediately recognizes her, and not just from TV.  Turns out when he was a kid and she was a teenager, she used to babysit for him.  They reconnect, and there is a kind of sweet nostalgia between them.  Fred's a funny and smart guy, and Charlotte needs to strengthen her sense of humor on the campaign trail, so she hires him to write speeches for her.  As they spend time on the campaign trail, they rekindle their friendship, and soon their feelings for each other become a lot stronger.  He always had a crush on her, even back in the day, and when they start spending time together, there's obviously a connection. 

What's great about Long Shot is that it is just as much about Charlotte as it is about Fred.  This isn't one of those comedies where the beautiful woman is just an object of desire.  These are both funny, interesting characters, and I loved watching them interact with each other.  It's also a movie that has some wickedly funny satire outside of the central romance about the political world, and how people interpret it.  In the film's opening scene, we get to see Fred infiltrate and secretly record a White Supremacist meeting which is bitingly funny, and creates a certain mood right off the bat that the movie is going to go to some harder places for a comedy.  It also sets up the character of Fred as being more than your usual Seth Rogen schlub.  He has beliefs, and he's willing to take risks in order to get the story.  It establishes early on that while he may not dress the best, he is a character worth following, and will not just be your average romantic comedy hero.

We first meet Charlotte having an uncomfortable meeting with the current President (Bob Odenkirk), a buffoon who played the President on a TV drama, somehow got elected, and now wants to leave the office after one term, so he can make it in the movies.  Charlotte knows this guy is an insufferable moron, but she needs his backing for her own run for office.  As is usual, Theron is fantastic here.  She has proven time and again to be one of our most valuable actresses, and here, she shows that she can be wickedly funny with verbal dialogue, as well as physical, in one memorable scene where she has to handle a political hostage situation while she is not exactly in the right frame of mind.  She is supremely confident in her performance here, It also helps that the screenplay allows her relationship with Fred to grow.  She's more curious about him than interested for at least half of the movie.  Yes, they have a history, but she has mostly forgotten him.  The movie gives these characters a chance to grow, breathe, and allow them to be attached to each other, and likewise, to us watching.

The screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah does hit a lot of expected stops for the genre.  There's the "meet cute" scene, the dance, the scene where the two characters gradually warm up to and respect each other more, and there's the forced crisis near the end where it seems like they must go their separate ways.  Of course we know how it will all play out, and that's not the appeal.  What is appealing is how consistently laugh out loud funny the movie can be.  There are few scenes where the movie runs out of steam, and too many frequent moments where the dialogue is so snappy and hilarious, just listening to these people talk is a joy.  This is a movie that mixes sincerity, political humor, intelligent banter, and a couple gross-out gags, but it all manages to work.  Director Jonathan Levine is also smart enough to just focus on his two stars and let them carry the picture, without relying on any pointless cinematic flourishes.  This is not a movie where the visuals stand out, but it's not boring to look at either, with endless "talking head" shots.

Long Shot is another jolt of energy that the romantic comedy has long needed, and I truly hope it finds an audience as the summer movies start to arrive.  This is as sharp and as hilarious of a comedy that I have seen in 2019, and it continues my personal belief that Charlize Theron can sell just about any material she's given.  Rogen is very likable here as well, and while they may not look like the best couple on camera, they really do make this work.

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