Things started on a high note at the SXSW 2019 premiere of the Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen headliner comedy Long Shot. Upon entry to the Paramount theater, staff distributed free drink vouchers. It was either a semi-transparent ploy to liquor up an already receptive audience to an even more enhanced state of receptivity, or a generous gesture intended to help us stay on the level of the director and cast, all of whom emphasized just how drunk they were owing to nerves.
Whatever, I’m immune to bribery, but not to the effects of alcohol. The truth is, stone cold sober, or drunk as a skunk, the movie needs no stimulus package from drugs or alcohol. Long Shot is funny as hell. You might not realize it right away as the film opens forcibly in the midst of a white power / alt-right / neo-Nazi meeting chock-full of enough skinheads, Nazi paraphernalia, and hate speech to make you immediately question not only what movie you’re viewing, but if you’ve made the right decision to do so. Fear not, the film course corrects in an instant, utilizing your shell-shock to great effect, taking your jilted emotional inner child by the hand back to the playground for wonderment, laughter, and joy.
There’s an expression; throw enough crap at a wall and some of it will stick. Well when director Jonathan Levine described the creative process behind Long Shot as just throwing 10 jokes every minute in the film, you expect some of them will stick, but what we get is a comedy storm wherein the jokes are the perfect variety of protein, fiber, and junk food, ready to hit that wall and stay there for eternity (or at least until the cultural references become outdated). My horrendous metaphor crafting aside, this is one funny movie. You might doubt the pairing of Rogen with Charlize. You might not understand the story or the marketing. None of it matters. Funny is funny. Funny hits and sticks.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Release Date: March 9, 2019
Long Shot might refer to a couple of things. It could refer to the odds of Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Theron) becoming president. Obviously, it could refer to the likelihood of anyone played by Rogen getting romantically involved with anyone played by Theron. Or, maybe it refers to a certain sexual act that becomes a pivotal plot instrument in the film’s final act. Take your pick, though we’ll just assume it’s referencing the ‘chance in hell’ odds of Theron deigning to bone Rogen, after all, this is no Knocked Up, there’s no binger or drunken night out to blame here. This is love, or something like it.
Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is an overzealous (if not good intentioned) journalist for the Brooklyn Advocate, a smaller periodical that prides itself on providing unbiased and impactful news. When the Advocate is bought by a mega media conglomerate with standards at odds with the Advocate’s, Flarsky quits his job in protest, refusing to be fired so that they know he did it for his own reasons. Field is the US Secretary of State, third in line to the Presidency, an office currently held by a man with one foot out the door, determined to leave the Presidency for television. Knowing this, Field beings to plan her ascension up the ladder. A chance encounter at a Boyz II Men concert sets the stage for Field to find Flarsky’s work and ultimately hire him to work on her communications messaging in her upcoming bid for President.
Despite being a Seth Rogen comedy filled with the sorts of quips and hijinks you’d expect, there’s a real attempt to balance the film’s irreverent humor with the seriousness of Field’s office and responsibilities. My guess is it’s a large part of the reason why the screenwriting credits are shared by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling. Sterling wrote the script for Rogen’s The Interview and has a long background in comedy writing on shows like South Park, King of the Hill, The Sarah Silverman Project, and The Office. Hannah’s credits are few in number, but feature a standout ‘written by’ credit for The Post. The result: a funny film that doesn’t shy away from moments of political seriousness, despite doing its best to undermine that structural integrity at every turn.
There’s situational comedy. There’s physical comedy. There’s Rogen-Goldberg paw-prints all over this thing. And there’s an air of fun permeating the film that director Jonathan Levine and his stars attributed to true collaboration in working on the film together. Several of them touched on it during the Q&A and seemed to be giving earnest praise for their ability to give their own take on the script and the jokes, not just paying complimentary lip service to one another for a job well done. Taking them at their word, it’s easy to understand why Levine, Rogen, and Theron reiterated just how drunk they were (Levine both before and after the show) because they were so nervous to see how the audience reacted to their collaboration baby.
Hint: the audience loved it. I was laughing regularly, but even when I wasn’t, comedian and actor Nick Kroll, seated directly behind me, was guffawing in his recognizably loud, nasal shotgun burst in my left ear, often getting the joke before four-fifths of the audience had caught up enough to react with him. If other comedic geniuses are laughing at your film, you’re probably in good shape.
The film builds its plot around the developing relationship between Field and Flarsky, hinged on the question of whether or not a high-profile political player, perhaps the most powerful woman in the world, can choose to love a man like Flarsky even if she wants to. What will people think? What will the polls say about her and Flarksy together? Does he pass the eye test? Wouldn’t her political career be better suited by spending more time with the Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgård in an obvious and hilarious-portrayed parody of the womanizing Justin Trudeau)?
The film takes an appropriately light-hearted stance on things after letting the audience sweat it out a bit. We begin on a high note and end on a high note. Everyone’s happy and were largely able to bypass most of the more serious issues that would hound the Secretary of State (and her staff) on a day to day basis. Sure, there’s some sort of terrorist attack or local civil conflict that spills over, momentarily putting our players in harm’s way, but it’s used to good effect to strengthen Theron’s straight-edged Field (she’s this way even while issuing sexual commands) in contrast to Rogen’s always hapless and never nearly in control version of what one can only assume is himself. The mock explosions and gunfire lead into one of only two decided low-points in the film, a pair of scenes wherein a digital helicopter was used in place of a real one. Sure, the pullback shots would have needed to combine digital effects with real footage to be recreated, by the full-on digital helicopters are glaringly out of place in the otherwise seamless production.
Side notes: keep an eagle eye out for motion-capture master Andy Serkis. Also, O’Shea Jackson Jr. shows he can keep pace with his dad’s comedy chops shown in the Jumpstreet reboot films and the Ridealong franchise--he basically elevates every scene he shares with Rogen (as Flarsky’s best friend). Is anyone else noticing that Levine-Rogen films always feature childhood friends with incredibly long-standing traditions they’ll follow no matter how outlandish they are for adults? Just me? Cool.