‘Long Shot’ (2019) Review: ‘Pretty Woman’ By Way Of Seth Rogen

By Steve Pulaski

Long Shot is Pretty Woman by way of Seth Rogen, equipped with bawdy humor, an extended sequence costarring Molly, and an obligatory masturbation gaff. Fear not, it’s a lot more palatable than it sounds, thanks to some disarmingly sweet moments and Jonathan Levine’s sensitive directorial touch. It also doesn’t hurt when you have O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Charlize Theron, who, I’m afraid, can do no wrong.

The film revolves around Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a dedicated journalist whose cargo pants, goofy windbreaker, and shaggy beard tell you all you need to know about him. After quitting his job in protest to a larger media conglomerate purchasing the website for whom he works, Fred and his pal Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton) go out for a night of drinking and waltz into a high-class charity event where Fred reconnects with Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). Charlotte was his babysitter and childhood crush, and she is now the U.S. Secretary of State. An immensely successful woman, she is pining for the approval of the sitting President, who has informed her he will not seek reelection. This is her opportunity to hold the Oval Office, and after Fred has no problem going right up to Wembley (Andy Serkis), the Roger Ailes-esque head of the company that bought out Fred’s employer, and telling him off, Charlotte looks into his work and feels he could be an asset as a speechwriter, especially since she is told she needs more humor and relatability in her upcoming campaign.

Fred and Charlotte soon embark on an international tour of sorts, as Charlotte tries to get countries on board with a sweeping piece of environmental legislature. Also on board are Charlotte’s staffers, the prickly Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and the quirky Tom (Ravi Patel). To no one’s surprise, romance begins to brew between Fred and Charlotte, yet this becomes doubly difficult for her, as she knows all too well that the campaign trail for women is much harder than for her male counterparts. She’s done her best to button up, as if making herself impenetrable to the bullets that will come her way, but she still can’t seem to get down the perfunctory little things (IE: her wave). Charlotte sees Fred’s presence as a conduit for humor and empathy, but sees that he knows her deeper than she might’ve assumed, especially as she begins frantically compromising her policies to appease not only the president but Wembley as well.

Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling are the cowriters of Long Shot, and this becomes a point of humor in itself because Hannah wrote the script for the Oscar-nominated drama The Post and Sterling penned Rogen and James Franco’s controversial The Interview, so both writers have worked on screenplays that have walked through the political minefield with different yet credible paths. The film’s focus on centrism and compromise in a time when things have never seemed more partisan might seem like a cop-out, but general audiences, myself included, will appreciate the even-handedness insofar that it lets Rogen and Theron blossom on-screen together.

The film segways from disarmingly sweet to amusingly crude with poise that makes you forget how difficult it is to do both of those things well. It helps not only that Rogen has been down this road before, but with Levine, as they collaborated on the tearjerking comedy 50/50 many years ago and the Christmas-themed The Night Before. Levine has been one to show his prowess with subverting what could easily be ribald comedies with some identifiable humor emotions, and Long Shot handles its central relationship with amiable silliness and the occasional hard truths. At heart, it’s an incredulous fantasy, with the common trope of the clumsy schlub getting the girl out of his league, and Levine, Hannah, and Sterling acknowledge this while giving audiences something to cheer on and laugh at.

Maybe it was her couple year hiatus or just general absence from the public eye in comparison to other actresses, but with every new Charlize Theron film, I feel as if I’m reminded what a wonderful performer she is with every role. It’s the way she brings gravitas and weight to roles you’d assume she’d be past this point in her career (Atomic Blonde and even this one). Her strengths in comedy are only outweighed by her ability to be a compelling dramatic actress in addition, and her stratosphere of talents and films gets extended a bit more here, as she fits in seamlessly with Rogen’s brand of humor. Also as charismatic as he was in both Straight Outta Compton and Ingrid Goes West is O’Shea Jackson Jr., who delivers some of the film’s funniest lines in scenes when his character, Lance, gives the office an entire day off in lieu of Fred leaving his job, or admitting two “secrets” to his friend late in the film. He’s a charmer, that one.

Long Shot was no long shot to be successful from the jump, especially with talent like this in front of and behind the camera. Levine’s capabilities of bringing a larger scope, both geographically and emotionally, to comedies, Rogen’s time-tested formula of hard-R humor, and Theron’s own acting talents make the film a lovely, mid-major winner for a year that has already seen offbeat comedies like The Beach BumCold Pursuit, and Unicorn Store succeed.

Grade: B