A Jewish, gonzo journalist gets a swastika tattooed on his arm in order to infiltrate a white supremacy group. American History X, Part 2? Nope. It’s the attention-grabbing opening scene of the comedic hoot “Long Shot,” and it’s been years since I laughed this hard at a movie.
It stars Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky, a fanatical-liberal, Brooklyn journalist (more schlub than hipster) and Charlize Theron as WASP-y U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field, who, it turns out, babysat young Fred when he was 12. What kind of story could possibly evolve here?
First Things First
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube’s son) says to Fred, “It’s ‘Pretty Woman,’ except she (Charlotte) is Richard Gere, and you’re Julia Roberts.” But before we get to the odd-couple romance, the movie sets about establishing each character separately.
Charlotte, the SecState, works for President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), a former actor, who’s fixing to jettison the presidency, to—make it in the movies. Yeah. He likes to replay his TV roles privately in the Oval Office. (Emoticon with eyes rolled up.)
Charlotte jumps at the opportunity to achieve her childhood dream of becoming the first female POTUS. She’s a hyperdriven, multitasking career woman whose support team constantly reads out her jam-packed itinerary, and who takes mini-naps, standing up, on her private jet, with her eyes open. So far, this is a Theron power-alley role. She can do that in her sleep.
Fred Flarsky is also right smack in Rogen’s power alley; it’s quintessential Rogen, from the unwavering (and loud) confrontational unwillingness to compromise his moral stance, to having to empty his recreational-drug-loaded pockets in front of a White House security officer, to getting caught with his pants down, to taking the most spectacular, down-the-stairs pratfall in movies in the last 20 years.
When Fred finds out that the paper he writes for has been bought by Andy Serkis’s silver-haired Parker Wembley (basically Rupert Murdoch), Fred quits on the spot, more or less cutting off his nose to spite his face; his integrity is intact, but his ability to pay rent will soon not be.
Luckily, Fred and his best-bud Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) have a time-honored ritual of cheering up whichever of them had a bad-life situation occur, and so they drink all day and eventually end up at a party where Boyz II Men are playing, live, and where Fred recognizes his former babysitter.
Cue the aforementioned spectacular pratfall. Charlotte’s reaction? She offers Fred a job as her speechwriter; she needs the personal touch (from someone who really knows her) and some humor to boost her presidential bid.
The two immediately have a ridiculous amount of chemistry, and it starts getting a little too cozy for Charlotte’s advisers’ comfort level (Ravi Patel from “Meet the Patels”; and June Diane Raphael), because they feel this romance will sabotage her chances.
Now, About This Romance
What’s amazing is how perfectly these two seemingly incompatible rom-com puzzle pieces sync up, both romantically and comedically.
Here’s a showbiz truth: The best actors all have serious comedic chops. Theron’s one of our best, but she’s such a spectacular beauty, she rarely gets to let her clown-flag fly.
Her foray into comedy kicked off with Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” with the most recent being “Tully.” But the scene in “Long Shot” where she’s under the influence of molly (a “recreational” drug), with party confetti in her hair, crouching under a war-room table, on the phone (as uniformed military types gawk in horror) while handling a tricky international hostage crisis is a new level of funny for her.
While this is clearly a male fantasy of epic proportions (beautiful, brainiac, alpha female power-influencer, who stands squarely on the world stage, falls for a chubby, sartorially challenged, broke-ity-broke, flaming liberal, Brooklyn weed-head), Rogen and Theron make it work to the point where I actually want to see it again.
And the best part is, at some point they just need to get away and be together, so they leave a party, find a deserted room and, to “It Must Have Been Love” (another “Pretty Woman” reference), do a slow dance.
And the adorable, in-their-own-world, little dance that Theron and Rogen come up with makes you immediately sit up in your seat and go, “Awww! Wow! Look at that! They’re soulmates! Totally predestined for each other!”
I’d love to see how they came up with that bit and whether it was rehearsed, and if so, how much. It’s movie magic.
Furthermore, the movie’s a great example of a man who’s probably a female spirit in a man’s physical body, paired with a woman who’s got a male soul. What am I talking about? See, I believe this is a thing that happens. I have a petite, girly-girl female friend, who’s inwardly tough as nails and says of her husband, “Yeah, he’s my wife.”
Not to deal in stereotypes, but when, during an apparent attack on an embassy, Fred gets hysterical and starts running around flapping and hyperventilating, and Charlotte starts doing Navy SEAL breathing exercises to focus and calms him down as effectively as putting a towel over a parakeet cage to calm the squawking, you know they’ve got excellent teamwork.
And, conversely—his yin affect on her yang tendencies—he sees to it that she holds fast to her inner moral compass, the one he saw in her when she was his babysitter. Aww! Traditionally, the wife makes sure the man remains good at heart.
In terms of the rest of the performances, there are a number of excellent political parodies: Hillary Clinton, Rupert Murdoch, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to name a few. And while the cast is jam-packed with top-notch comedic actors, the best example is the normally stud-ly Alexander Skarsgard playing the Trudeau-like character.
Handsome Skarsgard has a blast demonstrating how his character’s publicity team turned his high-pitched, slightly freaky girlish giggle into a tight-lipped, staid, toothy, “heh-heh-heh.” And his character sucks down oysters with such gross, slurping relish that Charlotte, out on a date with him, knows for sure she wouldn’t be missing anything by devoting her life to chubby, not-much-to-look-at Fred.
Romance Over R-Rating
It’s R-rated and rather raunchy. Let’s just say it has a common denominator with “There’s Something About Mary,” and if you don’t get the reference, that’s quite OK. Fortunately, these moments highlight the fact that, as a nation, we need to get over ourselves and focus on what’s important.
Author Tom Wolfe famously equated the American collective subconscious to an “old church lady.” We, the American people, love to get publicly morally outraged at the stuff we all do behind closed doors, and point fingers and blame and shame. “Long Shot” is ultimately about following our hearts and dropping the pretenses. And having quite a few belly laughs while doing it.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Serkis, Randall Park, Alexander Skarsgard
Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Release Date: May 3
Rated: 4 stars out of 5