Imagine a comedy set in the world where a woman becoming president isn’t the butt of most of the jokes—how refreshing. In fact, in the new film Long Shot, the bulk of the humor arises from who exactly would be most appropriate for her to date while running for office. And apparently when the actor playing said candidate is Charlize Theron, then it would only be natural that the most inappropriate partner the world can imagine would be Seth Rogen, right? And I’m talking about Seth Rogen today, not from like 10 years ago. Okay, aside from this slight casting faux pax, Long Shot is a charming, funny and smart work that succeeds on the likability of just about everyone in it, even if the film itself doesn’t seem deeply concerned with portraying world or relationship politics with any degree of accuracy.
Directed by frequent Rogen partner Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before) and written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, Long Shot tells the story of two childhood friends—Charlotte Field (Theron) used to babysit for Fred Flarsky (Rogen) when they were kids—who reconnect at a crucial time in both their lives. Charlotte is the U.S. Secretary of State and is about to tour the world pushing an environmental agenda that would make a great launch pad for her eventual candidacy. It helps that the current, very popular president—an actor who played the president of TV for many years (Bob Odenkirk)—doesn’t want to run for a second term because he wants to take a crack at the movies, and he’s willing to endorse Charlotte in her run.
Meanwhile, political reporter Fred works for an alternative newspaper that has just been swallowed up by a media conglomerate run by Parker Wembley (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis, under fully transformative makeup), so he quits and seeks solace in his multimillionaire best friend Lance (a spirited and truly funny O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who shuts down his entire company for the day just to go drinking with his buddy and end the evening at a political reception that just happens to include Charlotte, Wembley and Boyz II Men. The Charlotte-Fred reunion is actually incredibly sweet, and after she takes a look at his writing and realizes that he might know her core values better than anyone—including her two clingy political advisers, played by June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel—she asks him to join her on her world tour to help punch up and personalize her speeches.
Although she lives a fairly high-end lifestyle and he is thought to be out of her league in nearly every conceivable way, their youthful connection and his political idealism brings them closer together, even as her being forced to compromise on her legislation nearly drives him away from her. The scenes in Long Shot that are most fascinating are not the moments when they start to fall for each other—that’s expected; it’s when they actually get in each other’s faces about the nature of current politics. When Fred has a tantrum about having to kill a part of her environmental proposal, she doesn’t talk him down. Instead, she basically puts him in his place and demands he act like a grown-up and a professional. It’s a staggering and wonderful moment, mostly because we almost never see one like it in film ever, and Theron is so good at being the voice of authority, we all want to snap to at her behest.
Not that the romance side of the film isn’t lovely and surprisingly mature (a weird solo sex tape from Fred notwithstanding), but more importantly, it explores the way men respond to powerful women. As Charlotte points out, men think they want to be associated with them, but when it actually happens, they get nervous. A rumored romance between Charlotte and the Canadian prime minister (a subtly goofy take by Alexander Skarsgård) makes for an enjoyable subplot.
Rogen and Theron are so good together, in fact, it seems a shame not to re-team them at some point in the future. Not surprisingly, they aren’t as much of a mismatch as one might think (at one point someone compares him to dating a potato, which seems a bit harsh). Their truest comedic moment comes when she insists he get her high on Molly, and then she gets called into an emergency hostage situation with a foreign power. Not only are the two great in that sequence, but when the action turns just to Charlotte in tripping negotiation mode, she shows a performance skill and timing muscle that we’ve never really seen her exercise. As for Rogen, he’s still the lovable schlub, but there are true signs of growth and maturity from his performance that give us all hope. Long Shot is a solid, grown-up movie that isn’t afraid to be both silly and serious, and while it’s not a perfect movie, it isn’t afraid to strike an intelligent tone.