“Unlikely, but not impossible”, says the marketing for Long Shot, the new romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. Where Hollywood often (rightly) comes under fire for mismatching love interests, this is a film that more than earns the right to hang a lampshade on what turns out to be a highly watchable pairing.
The film takes place in and around a Washington D.C. we might recognise. Charlotte Field (Theron) is Secretary of State to President Chambers (brilliantly played by Bob Odenkirk), whose main qualification for his job is having played a president on TV for 10 seasons. When Chambers confides that he won’t seek a second term, Charlotte sees an unexpected opportunity to run in 2020.
But as a female candidate, she soon discovers that her advisers (June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel) prize optics over policy. While searching for a writer to punch up her speeches, she has a chance encounter with recently unemployed journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), who she used to babysit when they were both younger. Fred jumps at the opportunity to write for his former crush and the two become reacquainted as Charlotte prepares for a gruelling campaign.
The political dimension may put you in mind of films like The American President or Primary Colours, but from the off, Long Shot plants itself more squarely in Notting Hill territory, adding very light lashings of TV’s Veep. It’s neither as cheesy as the former or as cutting as the latter, but the result is a properly entertaining romantic comedy.
That’s no mean feat because it would be so easy for this premise to go awry in other hands. At points, it’s not hard to imagine, say, an Adam Sandler version of this that’s called something stupid like Hail To The Chick and lives down to all the tropes of an accomplished female character learning to be a “Cool Girl” with the help of a somehow irresistible moron.
The script is a lot better and smarter than that, but the casting of Rogen and Theron feels key to it arriving so intact. Reuniting with 50/50 and The Night Before director Jonathan Levine, Rogen is on really funny form here. As the marketing suggests, he’s the butt of some jokes, but he’s always been a self-deprecating screen presence and the film isn’t holding him up to be either stupid or unattractive.
Still, he’s likeable enough that it makes the repeated fantasy, that he could be to Theron what Marilyn Monroe was to JFK, considerably easier to swallow. While there’s a sense that we’ve seen Rogen play this kind of character before, that only means he’s got better at it over time, and there’s a little more to Fred than some of his other characters.
Besides, if you’re really looking for something different, you get the spectacle of Theron stretching her comic muscles for once and absolutely nailing it. For all of her character’s elegance, she still gives as good as she gets, even in the obligatory scene where a character takes drugs, which comes with significantly higher stakes than usual.
Sharing top billing like Newman and McQueen on The Towering Inferno (Theron is left but lower, Rogen is right but higher), the pair have an endlessly appealing comic chemistry that keeps the film ticking as it takes time to get to know its characters.
125 minutes is a long running time for any comedy, but it never feels boring or indulgent. Writers Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) have clearly got enough down on paper that the film rarely if ever devolves into Apatovian line-o-ramas, which is always a plus.
On top of that, Levine does a fine job of getting big laughs out of even the most tired comedy tropes. It’s saying something that even the obligatory viral video gag (almost always a sign of comedy writers not understanding how or why going viral works) feels more organic as part of a broad satire of the current political news cycle, on both occasions that it crops up.
While a running gag about catching up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Game Of Thrones (with spoilers for Winter Soldier and season 7, respectively) make this a movie of the moment, it presents a reasonably non-partisan send-up of the current state of the media.
That’s not to say that the film is entirely without topical jabs. Odenkirk is hilarious without having to obviously imitate anyone in particular, mostly because that’s left to an almost unrecognisable Lord Of The Rings star, whose slimy, grasping media mogul character seems to have escaped from Saturday Night Live.
But for the most part, it’s stronger as a romcom anyway. Like Notting Hill, it puts forth its daft, soppy sense of humour with a top-notch supporting cast, including Raphael (“JUUUUNE”) as Charlotte’s right-hand woman, Alexander Skarsgård as a very handsome but even more vapid Canadian prime minister, and especially O’Shea Jackson Jr as Fred’s scene-stealing wingman. Unlike Notting Hill, it also has a healthy aversion to schmaltz that should help it to charm even the most hardened viewer.
Contrary to its title, Long Shot is a sure-fire hit. Between Theron and Rogen’s shockingly good comic rapport and the steady flow of laugh-out-loud moments, there is lots to like here. It’s untidy and far from perfect, but in a microcosm of the movie’s own unlikely fling, it’s still very fanciable.
Long Shot is in UK cinemas from 3 May