Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen are a perfect match in a smart rom-com that's retro in all the right ways.
Long Shot. Source: Lionsgate Movies.
How do you defeat The Avengers? If you’re bringing out a film this week, chances are you’re hoping romantic comedy turns out to be the superhero team’s box office kryptonite. Not only does the long-awaited Australian rom-com Top End Wedding make its debut, but there’s also Long Shot, a call back to the glory days of 2007 when Seth Rogen was romance’s hottest leading man - only now the man-child of Judd Apatow’s bromantic comedies is all grown up and ready for a real relationship.
Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a passionate - maybe a little too passionate - journalist who angrily quits his job when his paper is bought by a soulless media mogul. Drowning his sorrows with his surprisingly wealthy best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr), they end up at a fundraiser where they bump into both the band Boys II Men and Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), the US Secretary of State. It turns out she used to babysit Fred, and while their brief encounter ends with him going head first down some stairs, Charlotte - who is planning a run for the Presidency, and who needs some writers to punch up her speeches - decides to offer him a job.
Unlike Rogen’s biggest rom-com hit Knocked Up, which also featured him as a schlub paired off with a woman seemingly well out of his league, this works hard to show why both characters would be into each other despite their surface differences. They’re both interested in the same things; they work well together as a team professionally before things get personal. Under her polished exterior she’s a little bit geeky; he’s passionate in a way she’s forgotten how to be. Their obvious differences are the biggest differences they have. The more we get to know them, the more obvious their fit is.
This kind of thing is vital in a rom-com. Too many of this century’s earlier efforts either didn’t bother to balance out the characters or didn’t seem to think men and women had much to offer each other. It definitely helps here to have two leads that have clearly been around the block; it’d be a lot harder to sell younger actors as being able to look past their characters’ obvious differences.
It would also be a lot harder for this film to work if Theron and Rogen didn’t have great chemistry together. She’s played enough tough guy roles in recent years that she doesn’t need to oversell the steely side being Secretary of State, which gives her room to be funny and a little vulnerable here; Rogen’s still dorky, but he’s no longer the man-child of 2007 (as a running joke about how few TV actors have become movie stars underlines).
They’re so good together, and the film itself is so funny (it’s joke-heavy enough to work even if you somehow don’t buy the core relationship) that it’s easy to overlook the film’s few wobbles. The actual political side of things is a little sketchy (there’s a moment of both-sidesism that hits a bum note), while the film never quite figures out what the all-important element that drives them apart is going to be. There’s a perfectly good reason laid out early on – is Fred really the man she wants by her side in public running for President – but the way that’s brought to a head feels forced and clunky in a way that would be a real problem if they weren’t so strong together playing a couple.
Director Jonathan Levine (who Rogan worked with on 50/50 back in 2011) has made a smart, funny rom-com that’s retro in the best way – it’s a celebration of what previously worked, but updated for a new era. If the genre hadn’t fizzled out thanks to a seemingly endless run of films that didn’t actually seem interested in the relationship between their leads, then this is a film we could have had a decade ago. It’s like the rom-com has been given a second chance in the 21st century: here’s hoping the future is more screwball than screwed up.
Director: Jonathan Levine
USA, 2019, 2hr 5min
Distributor: Studio Canal