Seth Rogen takes co-lead duties in Long Shot, as the only-in-Hollywood named Fred Flarsky, a hyper-indie journalist who routinely tells big business to ‘go fuck themselves’ via whatever thousand plus word epic essay he writes for a small online magazine. After his company is bought out by obscenely rich and obscenely obscene Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis doing his absolute finest slime covered version of Rupert Murdoch), Flarsky is left unemployed. Consequence meets fate, and eventually Flarsky finds himself employed as the speech writer for his one-time babysitter, now Secretary of State-cum-Presidential nominee, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). But, this can’t just be a work relationship – a romance has to ensue, and before you know it, the two are navigating romance and politics all at once. However, The American President this is not, as it’s still a Rogen comedy through and through, with obligatory sex jokes and drug use galore.
Yet, much in the same way that Paul Thomas Anderson was able to funnel Adam Sandler’s trademark tantrums into an affected, tender tale of companionship with Punch Drunk Love, director Jonathan Levine has found nuance in the rote and routine drug fuelled manchild chuckle that makes up so much of Seth Rogen’s work, and implemented that nuance to great effect with 50/50, and now Long Shot. Yes, Rogen is playing a version of the same character that he’s played many times over, but here he is given a solid foundation to work with thanks to a superb script by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, and most importantly, he’s given a charismatic, powerful performer – Charlize Theron – to work opposite.
More on that in a moment, first, let’s hit the negative points, as there are a few of them, but not the usual ones you may think. Yes, the stoner elements are well and truly there, but they’re built into who Flarsky is as a character, and given the legalisation of marijuana in certain areas of the US, there is a true-to-life feel to the character. Whether this is sign that the effect of Rogen as a stoner icon has rubbed off on society or not, blurring the lines between reality and fiction, is hard to tell. In turn, this stoner element actually works, and Long Shot benefits from it greatly with a late scene that could so easily have gone off the rails. What stumbles is the general concept of Fred Flarsky as a writer. Just like films about great musicians or artists where much of the narrative hangs on the quality of their art, only for that art to be shown to be something that would simply fail in reality, Flarsky’s writing is outwardly juvenile to the point of implausibility. Sterling and Hannah are obviously angling for a Vice Media-esque vibe to his writing, but instead it comes across as someone who has just realised the comedic gold of farting, and how great it is to say the word ‘fuck’, and intends to utilise both elements laboriously.
Long Shot survives and thrives despite of this small complaint, but it’s one that’s worth noting given the core plot hinges on the quality of Flarsky’s writing, and the mere fact that he’s employed to write speeches for a Secretary of State. Which is why the chemistry between Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron is so essential to the reason why despite some shortcomings, Long Shot just works. It’s hard to fake the kind of chemistry that thrives between Rogen and Theron here – you get a pure sense that these are two characters that genuinely care about one another, and also enjoy their time with each other. There’s a rare luminescent glow that comes from this kind of chemistry that just makes a film feel pure and vibrant, and that exists in spades here.
Theron’s career has been an interesting one, with a smattering of action films here and there, and a couple of genre flicks that have often wasted her great talent, so it’s a welcome surprise to see her flex her comedic talents and have a heck of a lot of fun doing so. On the flipside, Rogen’s career has been a curious one, driven predominantly by comedy fare, with the odd appearance in a drama (if you still haven’t seen Take This Waltz, rectify that now). Here, he blends that seasoned comedic talent with moments of drama and romance. Yes, believe it or not, but beard-bearing Rogen becomes a really brilliant romantic lead; one that may not be in the same league as Casablanca, but is certainly a lot better than much of the romantic comedy fare that thrived in the 2000’s.
Supporting turns from O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Flarsky’s best bud Lance, Ravi Patel and June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s management team, Alexander Skarsgård as the Canadian Prime Minister, and Andy Serkis as the Rupert Murdoch-surrogate who continually wants to spend ‘just a minute alone’ with Charlotte, are all superb. Under Levine’s direction, all of the cast thrive a rare kind of energy – one that suggests that everyone is having the time of their lives. It’s infectious stuff, helping make this a comedy that you can’t help but roll with all of its absurdities.
Another brilliant element is the agency of Charlotte – she’s someone who knows what she wants in a relationship, and is not going to let anything stand in her way to get it. Charlotte’s openness in the bedroom and in her relationship allows Flarsky to become a genuine partner, side stepping the tired trope of forcing a woman to decide between her job and her relationship. Theron owns this role completely, and clearly is thrilled at being able to subvert American politics by being a powerful woman running for the position of President.
(As a side note, this has to be the first of Rogen’s weed-filled comedies that has genuinely made me wish that marijuana was legal in Australia. Never before has the relaxation, anxiety-removing properties of marijuana been better presented in a Rogen comedy than here.)
Look, Long Shot has its flaws, and at times, it wears those flaws on its sleeves with pride. As so often is the case with comedy, the difficulty of bringing laughs to life is so often forgotten, and it’s with Long Shot that both Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen remind that there’s a lot more that goes into make a comedy sing. This is a film that is full to the brim with genuine heart and chemistry, partially driven by two of the best lead performances in a romantic comedy in a long while.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, June Diane Raphael
Writers: Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah