‘Long Shot’ is more than just a rom-com

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 9:27pm

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“Long Shot” is certainly titled around its premise: The political rom-com stars Charlize Theron (“Tully”) as the U.S. Secretary of State and Seth Rogen (“The Interview”) as her speechwriter and eventual love interest. Theron’s incandescent, piercing beauty contrasts so starkly with the guffawing teddy-bearish charm of Rogen, but the movie’s core irony is that they successfully conjure a believable chemistry with each other.

For me, the most difficult litmus test for any comedy is simply how frequently its jokes land. “Long Shot” definitely passed. I often found myself laughing at both the cheap and the nuanced gags. The film achieves an effective balance between the two, featuring moments like Rogen crashing down a sleek glass staircase as well as snarky, intelligent one-liners about global politics. While the pacing of the story had its flaws, slogging through scenes that felt inessential, the film itself never paused to become totally serious. Even when hostage crises and bomb threats erupt, Rogen’s awkward, hyperventilating Fred Flarsky is always there to remind us that we are still inside a comedy.

But perhaps what’s worth discussing more than the two stars’ ability to carry the entire movie on the hilarity of their romance is the potent political ideas the film suggests. The world of “Long Shot” is a politically sardonic reflection of our own, built around both harsh realities and amusing hyperbole. Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”), for example, plays President Chambers, who spends his Oval Office scenes not signing bills and planning policy, but watching old episodes of himself in his heyday as a TV star. Another fascinating character is media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, “Black Panther”), some toadish combination of Rupert Murdoch, Steve Bannon, Harvey Weinstein and ExxonMobil. He and Chambers, the amalgamations of evil that permeate all politics in the world of “Long Shot,” are unambiguously wicked, compelling vehicles for commentary on how citizens and politicians should respond to their brand of malice.

One of the more questionable ideas the film suggested was that of centrism and compromise as long-term paths to victory. Charlotte’s ambitious environmental reform policy, while resonating with her diplomatic audience, faces the recurring dilemma between integrity and widespread support. With more democratic presidential primary candidates seeming to appear everyday, this particular notion of centrism as a tool seemed the most foreboding about current American politics. And yet, whether this message is appealing or not, the film itself could not clearly communicate the logic of its theory. The result was an ultimately idealistic, potentially problematic portrait of the 2020 presidential race.

And yet, for all of the parables it offers, “Long Shot” does not have to be an artifact of intense political scrutiny to enjoy it. The fact that it manages to carry any nuance at all is impressive in and of itself. As a pleasant and satisfying crowd-pleaser, it more than works. Maybe the title encompasses more than a relationship between Fields and Flarsky, also taking up the hopes of remedying rampant corruption in our political system. And if that’s an idea too alarming to swallow, don’t fret — it’s just a rom-com.