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Friday, May 3, 2019

REVIEW: LONG SHOT somehow makes it work

At first blush, Long Shot looks like exactly that. Political rom-com? Is that a thing anyone really wants right now? But somehow, it has emerged as one of the better romantic comedies to get a theater release in the last year. It's a strange mash-up of throwback simmered in the charged atmosphere of today's political climate that succeeds in bringing warmth and comedy in equal measure, thanks largely to the chemistry between the two leads. 

Long Shot stars Charlize Theron as Secretary of State Charlotte Field. Field's life is micromanaged to the minute, and her aspirations to move on to a higher office come into focus when the largely inept President of the United States (Bob Odenkirk) decides he will not seek another term in the upcoming election. Field decides to seize the opportunity by testing some policy ideas on a world-wide tour, but her marketing and image consultants make it clear she's also got to work on her humor to better engage with voters. 

Enter Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a left-leaning journalist who quits his job after his outlet is acquired by evil corporate overlords. It turns out Field and Flarsky have a childhood connection, and when they bump into each other at a party, their career ambitions align as Flarsky joins Field's campaign as a speech writer. Romance and lots of jokes ensue, with a constant question hanging at the back of the proceedings: is Flarsky First Man (or even First Boyfriend) material? 

The vibe of Long Shot reads somewhere between Knocked Up (Rogen dates another attractive women billed as out of his league, etc) and 50/50 (a more sentimental movie, but similar in comedy beats and helmed by the same director Jonathan Levine). It uses politics as the set dressing but doesn't get into actual political policy: Field talks a lot about some sort of climate deal but we know little beyond that. Instead, Long Shot focuses on the constant tug-of-war between two types of personalities. Field is an idealist who has made peace with the concept of compromise, sometimes to her detriment. Her career path has taught her time and time again that she must sometimes adjust or dilute her vision for the sake of hierarchy, order, and party unity. Flarsky sits on the other end of the spectrum - an idealist who has never known compromise, but is so rigid in his beliefs that he can't impact change on any serious level. 

That Rogen is hilarious here is absolutely no surprise. He's been in and out of the limelight over the last decade, but his comedic chops are sharper than ever. But Theron, who hasn't really had the same comedic roles in her career (her appearance on Arrested Development was one of the show's low points before it was so unsuccessfully resurrected), proves to be as good if not better. Watching this movie and Fury Road back to back, you'd be forgiven for not realizing it was the same actress in both - she's that transformative and versatile of an actress. Their chemistry is also off the charts and easy, void of dramatic confessions in the rain, instead enveloping the characters in a natural warmth and even maturity. 

Long Shot even uses a surprising and effective combination of supporting characters: Andy Serkis as the sleazy billionaire, O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Flarsky's best friend, Alexander Skarsgard as the flirtatious Canadian Prime Minister, and June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel as Field's campaign staff (that Raphael isn't as famous as Rogen for her comedic acting is also a crime, but hopefully her time is still yet to come). 

As big-budget franchise powerhouses dominate theaters and romantic comedies continue to slip away from theatrical release in favor of streaming vehicles, it's really refreshing to see movies like Long Shot, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Big Sick keep the tradition alive, even if only happens once or twice a year. 

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