Old fashioned rom-com meets political satire in this reverse Pretty Women that’s clever, heartwarming–oh yeah–and hilarious! After years of absence, the American romantic comedy has been slowly making a comeback in recent times; take last year’s Crazy Rich Asians for example. Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Dan Sterling and Elizabeth Hannah, this edgy, smart comedy uses its two charming yet unlikely lovers as a conduit through which the socio-political state of America is explored in unapologetic, candid ways. Starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, this movie demonstrates that real issues facing us today can be acknowledged but never become the central focus of the movie. It is the superb chemistry and character development of Theron and Rogen that carries this movie. Simple plot, complex characters. Although there are very Rogian moments, Theron and supporting actor O’Shea Jackson Jr, playing Rogen’s best friend, help to balance him out. Thanks to the outstanding comedic writing powered by external and internal conflict, this movie elevates the rom-com to rise above the predictable to deliver an endearing story that is equal parts whimsical and plausible. Theron and Rogen deliver stellar performances that carry the movie from start to finish. And you know what, it looks like they are having a great time!
When Fred Flarsky (Rogen) learns that his independent newspaper has been bought out by a media conglomerate, he quits instead of having his voice silenced or conformed to fit the new business model. By sheer happenstance, Fred runs into his childhood babysitter Charlotte Field (Theron) the current Secretary of State at a party to which his best friend (Jackson Jr.) brought him to cheer him up. When Field decides to prepare for a presidential run, she hires Flarsky to punch up her speeches because she likes his honesty and chutzpah. Little did either know that this business partnership would ignite old flames that would give way to political and relational conflict.
Not to oversimplify, but everything in this movie works. And that is rare for a comedy to work this well for me. If you’re familiar with my writing, you’ll know that I do not watch many romantic comedies, and seldom truly adore one; but, I sincerely enjoyed this movie. Levine demonstrates a commitment to effective directing that builds upon the impeccable casting and solid screenplay. Long Shot is one of those rare comedies that gives us captivating characters from the onset and a plot that, albeit unlikely, could very well exist in real life. Whereas it would have been so easy for the focus of this politically charged fish-out-of-water meets romantic-comedy to be overly concerned with the politics to the point that the characters and plot suffer, the story is consistently character-driven by using the plot to explore socio-political commentary that ultimately fuels the conflict. Topics such as the environment, racism, religion, and feminism are highlighted but never steal the spotlight from the journey of Flarsky and Field. And the screenplay gives us some thought-provoking reversals that go to show that the very group that claims to be the most tolerant of differences might actually be the least tolerant of all. The fact that Field is a woman and must play by different rules than male politicians is acknowledged but doesn’t become the focus either. In short, this movie has a well-defined central character (Charlotte Field) with a clearly defined external goal (to become President), fueled by an internal need (connection, both with herself and a partner) and motivation to achieve the goal (to make a positive difference for the American people). That is why the writing works as well as it does. Everything else is icing on the cake–and it’s delicious icing that is neither too stiff nor too sweet.
Pretty Woman works as well as it does, and has found itself a beloved movie not because of the social commentary but because the audience fell in love with the stars and desired to see them find happiness. The same can be said of Long Shot. I was hesitant going into the screening since I am not usually a fan of Rogen’s comedy; but I was confident that with Theron, an actress I have long since found to be outstanding in talent, beauty, and philanthropy, Rogen’s over-the-top self-deprecating acting would have a equally charismatic actress to balance him out. The relationship between Field and Flarsky is so incredibly genuine. No pretense here. Both of them say precisely what they think, not shying away from feedback or rebuttals that could mean the end of the friendship, partnership, or careers. Combining Field’ workaholic, domineering, savvy Secretary of State turned presidential candidate and Flarsky’s radical, uncouth, abrasive journalist turned speechwriter provides audiences with a refreshing take on a staple genre of motion pictures. They have have different ways of showing it, but both characters are Type As that are stubborn, idealistic, and seek to do the right thing by the American people–Field as a politician and Flarsky as a journalist.
All throughout the movie, conflict arises out of Flarsky’s reactions to Field’s platform and policy changes; furthermore, additional conflict arises out of Field’s reactions to the choices made by Flarsky as they could damage her chances at the presidency. Despite all the conflict, it comes from being committed to a passion, and it’s that unapologetic passion that draws them to on another. That, and the fact they are childhood friends, and are affected by the power of nostalgia. The TV celebrity turned President of the Unites States is definitely built from tropes and characteristics of our current POTUS, but never feels too much or forced. Likewise, the character of the media mogul is clearly derived from Rupert Murdoch. Both these oppositional characters are entertaining without ever going over the top to make a point.
Although it is Rogen who is first billed, and therefore is likely the intended central character (from the perspective of Lionsgate), it is Theron’s Field who is the central character of this story. Just because you are introduced to a character first, doesn’t always mean that they are your central character. In a manner of speaking, Rogen plays the role of Field’s conscience, a sort of moral/ethical compass that doubles as a vessel through which Field rediscovers her ambitious youthful self and all the convictions therein. Rogen is not the only conscience/moral compass in the movie, he too has one in the form of his best friend. The best scenes in the movie are those where heated arguments or passionate disagreements take place. No real surprise there, but these arguments always have something to teach the characters and, by extension, the audience. One of Flarsky’s purposes is to remind Field why she got into politics (even during her time running for student council) at such a young age and that she should never compromise on her convictions–stay true to herself. Furthermore, he is also the vessel through which Field rediscovers and connects with her needs as a human, as a women. A need to reconnect with her playful self that will ultimately unleash who she truly is. Likewise, Flarsky’s successful best friend surprisingly emerges as his conscience. Only instead of providing moral/ethical direction in the world of politics, it is on a more relatable sociological level. Flarsky is confronted on his gross intolerance of all those with whom he disagrees in terms of religion, love and support, and even racism. He buys into the stereotypes just like those he accuses. Great scene!
Thinking of this movie and Pretty Woman, I am left with this one being the superior movie. Not knocking Pretty Woman, I still respect it, but Long Shot takes what Pretty Woman did right, and elevate it to the next level. One of the biggest differences between the two is the style of comedy. Long Shot is definitely a hard R comedy whereas Pretty Woman is more “family friendly.” You can enjoy both equally! A movie about underdogs, this movie may very well be an underdog at the box office in May, but it’s certainly worth the watch if you’re in the mood for an edgy adult comedy.
You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.
Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!