Sweet rom slips into slick com in Charlize’s ‘Long Shot’
Theron and Seth Rogen bring something fresh to the romcom party, goosed along by quite a dash of raunch
Star-driven love stories are a rare enough commodity on screen these days that Long Shot feels like a throwback – specifically, to the kind of Cupid-strikes romcom that was far more popular a generation ago.
Jonathan Levine’s film indulges itself with a soundtrack cue from Pretty Woman – Roxette’s irresistible chart-topper It Must Have Been Love – and hopes to fly as an odd-couple piece in that tradition, pitching Charlize Theron as a fiercely unattainable US presidential candidate just waiting to have her heart melted by Seth Rogen, as the shambolic journalist she used to babysit.
At 16 and 13 respectively, these two shared a kiss, but they came a long way into adulthood before the stars aligned to reunite them; it happens just as Rogen’s Fred Flarsky, who writes ranting blogs for a leftist Brooklyn rag called The Advocate, is made unemployed in a boo-hiss corporate takeover.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Field (Theron) is a regally accomplished but secretly lonely secretary of state, who’s poised to go for the top job but needs a little help in the humour and relatability departments. She has the brainwave of bringing Fred aboard her campaign to punch up her speeches.
The screenplay, written by Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post), needs these two to complete each other, and sometimes you catch it coercively insisting on the fact, as if you were witnessing an arranged marriage. There are jokes about “the optics”: Theron is obviously gorgeous, and Rogen a dressed-down scruffball punching way above his weight – even if he manages to scrub up handily when you force him into black tie.
The film’s middle act is occupied with keeping their incipient fling a secret, though Charlotte’s head staffer, a ferocious spin-machine snappily played by June Diane Raphael, is not so easily fooled.
Letting it all hang out in fast-talking, power-brokering Washington is the film’s main game, one borrowed from such mid-1990s confections as Ivan Reitman’s Dave (1993) and, in particular, Rob Reiner’s The American President (1995), whose zingy-but-preachy Aaron Sorkin script made it a forerunner to The West Wing.
As in the Reiner film, the last word between Charlotte and Fred is going to come down to political principle: will she be able to stick by the idealism of her teenage years, and get a new environmental bill (dubbed “Bees, Seas and Trees”) passed without crippling compromise?
The one watching her like a hawk is Fred, because right-wing pressure from a Murdoch-style tycoon (Andy Serkis, unrecognisable as ever) insists that she water it down, and the outgoing president (a droll Bob Odenkirk) is too obsessed with his future film career to mount a resistance. “I don’t even like bees!” Charlotte moans with endearing feebleness when the two other elements face the chop.
Long Shot chunters along, jabbing away with its barely spoofy impression of current politics: an unending parade of vox pops, with actual content or change almost laughably impossible. But the film is increasingly torn in two opposing directions (perhaps unsurprisingly, given those split writing duties).
It has thinly adult pretensions, like something Sorkin or James L Brooks (Broadcast News) might have conceived, and enough current-affairs savvy to get us smiling at the panicked ratings game of running a campaign.
But it takes a thoroughly adolescent turn in the third act, when Fred gets caught doing something private on camera that could be used to blackmail the pair. It’s a grating touch of pure American Pie gross-out, which the script tries to sell as good for us, too. Proceedings are stricken at times, not helped by the air of post-modern self-consciousness, as when Rogen and Theron do a night-time shuffle while singing along to the aforementioned Roxette hit – awkward as hell, but intentionally awkward, with irony as a fig leaf for actors and script alike.
We’ve seen Rogen do much of this flailing underdog shtick before. Fred is just an angrier variation on his television producer in The Interview, imagining himself to be the one with a monopoly on virtue in a sea of corruption and slick profiteering. His buddy routines with best pal Lance amount, alas, to a disappointingly sidekicky use of the funny and talented O’Shea Jackson Jnr.
It’s Theron, underrated in comedy, who brings something fresh to the party, looking alive in the kind of uptight, self-mocking role that Sandra Bullock frequently corners. The set-piece where she handles an international incident while high on drugs, encrusted in glitter and hiding behind jokey shades, could have been a laboured botch if she’d overplayed the panic, but she feeds in the right amount of fatigue and vulnerability to make it work.If you come away thinking that MDMA is just the thing for terror negotiations, the film may have mixed some rogue messages in with its obligatory ones – but given the vanilla tang that the latter wind up having, that would be no bad thing.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)