The romantic-comedy director’s main job is to create a story so charming that it convinces viewers to suspend reality, to make them cast away logic, be dazzled and let themselves fall in love with love.
“Notting Hill” had to make us believe a world-famous actress would just randomly show up in a cozy London neighborhood and fall in love with the owner of a travel bookstore. Definitely unrealistic and yet we allow ourselves to fall in love with it. And in “Long Shot,” director Jonathan Levine (“Snatched”) must convince us that Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a left-leaning and unemployed journalist who lives in tapered pants, a baseball cap and windbreaker, could capture the heart of a smart, powerful, successful woman like U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron).
Flarksy, a hard-core liberal reporter, learns that media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis) bought the paper Flarsky writes for, and he decides to quit his job in protest. Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., “Ingrid Goes West”), Flarsky’s best friend, takes him out for a night of drinking and letting loose. He takes Flarsky to a charity event where they cross paths with Charlotte, his childhood crush and former babysitter. After a moment of reconnection, Flarsky spots Wembley and loses control, railing on the billionaire over his Fox News-esque propaganda media machine that he passes off as news. Field, on the verge of announcing her presidential candidacy, is won over by his ethics and hires him to be her speechwriter.
Along with her aides (a hilarious June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel), Flarsky and Charlotte travel the world, getting closer and eventually starting a relationship. (One they keep hidden, because Flarsky isn’t about to score well in polls.) It’s not that Charlotte has necessarily forgotten who she is; rather, as most women know, there have to be sacrifices and compromises to thrive in a field dominated by men, one that has decided what a female leader should look like and wear, who she dates, even how she waves her hands. Spending time with Flarsky reminds Charlotte of the idealistic young girl she used to be, and she starts to let loose, including a wild MDMA-filled night that ends in her having to negotiate a hostage release with another country.
Yes, the youngest female secretary of state, who’s running to be the first female American president, frees a hostage while on molly. Screenwriters Liz Hannah (“The Post”) and Dan Sterling (“The Interview”) so successfully beguile the audience with uproarious and sweet moments, that by the point that scene arrives, it just kinda fits.
The playful chemistry exuded by Theron and Rogen really drive home that opposites-attract connection: Rogen’s off-kilter charm and jocularity pair well with Theron’s elegance and wit, and costume designer Mary E. Vogt (“Crazy Rich Asians”) reinforces the obverse pairing — Flarksy is rarely without a baseball cap and windbreaker, while Charlotte lives in Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana. While Rogen has displayed this side of himself in nearly every movie he’s been in, Theron gets a chance to have a little fun with a character who’s a strong, empowered woman who breaks glass ceilings but also starts to indulge in romance, sex, pop culture, and more.
And here’s where the rom-com can get a bit murky. The pairing is lovely but at times can feel a tad mansplain-y. The film might no longer titled “Flarsky,” but it still mainly focuses on the male lead’s journey. So when the conflict between the two characters arises, his words to Charlotte feel like he’s talking down to her, putting her in a position that way too many women know — being told to compromise or to change for love or career. The trope has been around as long as the rom-com itself, and is very much part of the big message behind this movie’s antecedents (“Notting Hill” meets “Dave” with some “VEEP” thrown in).
While I did find that “Long Shot” tried to find a balance between its male and female protagonists, even in dialogue that felt similar to the “both sides” argument so often cited in contemporary politics, I am not sure it worked completely. Of course, that’s more of an overall problem in the genre, and not singular to “Long Shot,” so each individual viewer will decide for themselves if this is something they are willing to overlook. The genre has been having a renaissance as of late, and as these tropes are being reckoned with and redesigned, it’s uncertain if this film will hold up over time, despite its humor and allure.
Even with a completely unrealistic premise, and a handful of trope problems, “Long Shot” is still charming enough to bring the laughs, the escapism, and the twitterpation that any great romantic comedy can provide.