Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Review: "Long Shot"
I’m not quite sure if the title of “Long Shot” refers to the woman running for president of the United States or the dweeby guy who becomes her speechwriter and falls for her. Given they are played by world-class beauty Charlize Theron and frumpy beta male extraordinaire Seth Rogen, respectively, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.
Hollywood: the only place where guys who look like they were plucked straight out of a video game tournament get supermodels to fall for them.
Once, just once, I’d like to see a mainstream movie where a regular-looking guy is ensorcelled by a regular-looking woman, or vice-versa. But this is showbiz, and we like to look at pretty people.
There are a lot of things that don’t work in this movie, but surprisingly the Theron-Rogen pairing is not one of them. It’s a sweet and awkward dance, about two very busy but lonely people, and in the end we believe she really could fall in love with him.
(The other way is a given.)
Mostly this is due to a very strong and subtle performance by Theron, who shows us layers of emotion, ambivalence and calculation we don’t usually see in the romantic comedy game.
Also, he is hitting at only about 60% of Full Rogenness, which turns out to be the perfect dose of his neurotic/obnoxious shtick.
He plays Fred Flarsky, a crusading journalist at the Brooklyn Advocate who has built a reputation for spit-flecked invectives against those he sees as evildoers. As the story opens he is infiltrating a Nazi sect (Brooklyn Nazis?) and goes so far as to agree to a swastika tattoo to prove his bona fides.
Theron plays Charlotte Field, Secretary of State serving under an idiot president (Bob Odenkirk) whose only preparation for the role of POTUS was playing one on TV. But now he’s decided not to run for reelection in favor of something “more prestigious” – feature films – and offers to endorse Charlotte for her own run.
She and Fred run into each other at a posh party Fred’s best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) invites him to as a cheer-up after losing his job. Turns out Charlotte babysat for Fred when they were teens, and there was an early and embarrassing, uh, indication of his desire for her -- the pudgy D&D bookworm pining after the student council president wannabe.
The political flacks tell Charlotte she isn’t funny enough, so she brings Fred on as a punch-up writer who travels with her around the club promoting a major environmental initiative she wants to use as a springboard for her presidential announcement.
Bearded, wearing the same type of rainbow-hued tracksuit he did as a kid, carrying a copious amount of drugs at all times, Fred stands out like a sore thumb on the international stage. But as they spend time together, they find the old attraction still burns.
Soon she’s teaching how to be a real grownup, and he’s helping her find her inner kid. One sequence, where they drop drugs and dance till dawn, ineptly plays national security issues for a goof.
In the black column is the film’s ability to hold up a funhouse mirror to our current political environment. Like any good satirist knows, it’s better to wield a scalpel than an ax.
Rather than being a blowhard Trump clone, Odenkirk’s prez is a self-deluded hack. Similarly, Andy Serkis (barely recognizable behind a Steve Bannon-esque wig and facial prosthesis) is a stand-in for a Roger Ailes type as the conniving head of the Wembley global media conglomerate.
Several cutaways of a Fox News-like morning talk show, replete with sniggering goombahs tossing around sexist jokes, are just devastating.
But the movie also has a surprising moment I didn’t expect where Fred gets an eye-opening reveal about his own biases and intolerance.
Director Jonathan Levine and screenwriters Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling wisely stay away from getting too deep into the political weeds. This is reflected by one of Charlotte’s political image consultants on their strategy to stress her glamour rather than her plans: “We don’t drill down too deep on policy, and that’s because our research finds people don’t care.”
Witty, funny, occasionally gross, “Long Shot” is that rarest of cinematic animals: a political romantic comedy with a fuzzy, warm center.