Film Reviews

Long Shot is Not the Knocked Up Retread You Might Be Expecting

Released a week after the cultural monolith that is Avengers: Endgame, there is already so much working against Long Shot, chiefly the inescapable deja vu feeling of watching Seth Rogen punch above his weight in getting Charlize Theron to fall in love with him. Knocked Up was 12 years ago, yet Rogen is somehow again romancing the gorgeous blonde – first Katherine Heigl, now Theron – who is way out of his league. Both films are actually built around the improbability of such a pairing, but fool me once and all that.

Oddly, though, that’s not even the biggest thing Long Shot asks of you. No, the bigger obstacle might just be the inherently awkward combination of Rogen’s signature blend of crass, stoner comedy with this remarkably fraught political moment. The story broadly entails a whirlwind romance between a speechwriter (Rogen) and a highly motivated politician (Theron) gunning for the presidency, which certainly sounds workable in a Hollywood melodrama kind of way. However, key plot points include diffusing a hostage crisis while tripping on molly, dealing with a Jeff Bezos-style sex tape, and finding out your black friend is a Republican.

So, The American President and Dave this is not. No charming, old school Capracorn here. With Rogen co-headlining the cast, though, there was never going to be. Broadly speaking, if you’ve seen one of his comedies you should generally know what to expect from Long Shot: lots of pop culture references, a generous supply of f-bombs, too much improvising, and a fair share of dick jokes.

Except Long Shot is Rogen slightly more restrained. That tends to happen whenever he is paired with director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before) or works from a screenplay he didn’t at least co-write. In Long Shot’s case, the script is credited to Liz Hannah (completing her one-two punch after jumping out of the gate with The Post) and Dan Sterling (an old Daily Show with Jon Stewart producer who mostly writes for TV comedies now). That gives the film the feel of something which was outlined as a vaguely plausible political comedy and then had Seth Rogen improvise over a lot of it.

Theron is a perfectly game scene partner for him, and she’s hardly above living in this style of comedy, lest we forget her turn as Seth MacFarlane’s love interest in A Million Ways to Die in the West. She’s not really the “love interest” here, though. In fact, if anything Rogen is. Between the two, Theron’s character has the more pronounced arc:

He, like most Rogen protagonists, has to grow up a little and get over his various hypocrisies, like assuming all Republicans are corrupt idiots. She has to debate potentially risking her career and the highest office in the land for love since everyone around her says dating him would be career suicide.

Yet, the “would these two really fall in love?” question hangs over everything. He’s meant to be an angry liberal journalist who is one heck of a writer but is so unwilling to compromise that he loses his job. Newly unemployed, he lands the gig with Theron’s camp (headed by hilariously acerbic campaign manager June Diane Raphael) because they knew each other as teenagers and she needs someone to punch up her speeches to make them funnier.

During the infatuation stage of the romance where Theron can’t stop thinking about him, we see her reading some of his articles and smiling at his apparent wit, which is hard to understand when the articles feature headlines like “Fuck Exxon!” Don’t trip over yourself, Pulitzer committee.

The film is a tad more successful in arguing their romance is truly born out of extreme circumstance (they almost die at one point when they stay in a war-torn country) and refreshing familiarity (she’s clearly energized by being around someone who knew her before she was Secretary of State and can remind her of the pure idealist she used to be in the days before pragmatism ruled the day). Plus, given her job she has limited options or even chances for dating and through working together Rogen has come to know her better than anyone else in her life.

If you can buy that, then Long Shot is a rom-com for the political junkie age, combining a sweet romance with potshots at Steve Bannon types (personified by an unrecognizable Andy Serkis), TV show Presidents (Bob Odenkirk), and the media’s bias against women (Theron is insultingly told by a consulting firm that people don’t like her wave). If not, however, it’ll just frustrate you.

BOTTOM LINE

Long Shot often plays like an awkward combination of The American President and Knocked Up, which is not a recipe everyone will enjoy. I struggled to get past that as well as the inherent improbability of the premise. I kept wincing at the impact of adding Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy to the weight of our current historical moment, yet Rogen and Theron make for a surprisingly compelling duo. Long Shot is ultimately an optimistic comedy which believes everything will be as it should be if we just stay true to ourselves. In the here and now, that’s a pleasant fantasy to escape into.

Long Shot is in theaters now. Seen it yet? Still on the fence about going? Let me know in the comments.

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