Long Shot (2019) Review
AN AMUSING POLITICAL SATIRE ROM-COM
In the plethora of cinematic subgenres of theatrical motion pictures, the usage of romantic comedies (i.e. rom-coms) has always been a primary / fundamental “cog in the machine” for the industry driving machine of Hollywood. While the passing of decades and era of feature films has changed with the current culture of the nation, the usage and ultimately presentation of romantic comedies has always remained the same. Though the setting and characters are different, majority of the narrative aspects (story, plot, and themes) and other stereotypical nuances are relatively unaltered; weaving a formulaic tale of two people meeting, falling in love, facing challenging obstacles, and (ultimately) living happily ever after. It’s a proven formula to work and Hollywood has certainly embraced the genre with several movie studios churning out several films every year. Some of the more highlighted and celebrated ones includes 1953’s Roman Holiday, 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, 1990’s Pretty Woman, 1999 Notting Hill, 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama, and 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, which are the very epitome of a romantic comedy endeavor. Now, Summit Entertainment / Lionsgate and director Jonathan Levine present the latest rom-com offering from Hollywood with the political theme release of Long Shot. Does this find breathe new life into the romantic comedy genre or is it just another “run-of-the-mill” movie that has a lot of “been there, done that” vibe?
Charlotte Fields (Charlize Theron) is the current Secretary of State of the United States. Dedicated to her jobs, she is overworked and overstuff with her busy schedule, trying to keep up with the demands of the job as her personal life becomes non-existent. When President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) announces he’s ready to quit after one term, Charlotte takes the promise of his endorsement for the next presidency and attempts to create a vast climate protection agreement for the world, traveling all over to attend functions and galas to meet with leaders to potential sign on-board with the deal. While attending a charity event, Fields runs into Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist who’s recently been fired from his paper), who actually has a chance encounter, with the pair first interacting in the early 1990s, when Charlotte used to babysit him. With the hopeful potential of presidency and a chance to “sharpen” her image, Fields has Fred to join her team as a speechwriter. Fred is overwhelmed by the prospect, with Charlotte’s key staffer Maggie (June Diane Raphael) loathing him, but the writer soon proves his worth. In time, Charlotte and Fred begin a relationship with each other, commencing an affair that complicates Charlotte’s current political agenda and the road to becoming the first female President of the United States.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, yes, I’ll admit it…. I do like romantic comedies. There simplistic, fun, and full of lighthearted themes of love, happiness, and a healthy does comedic jabs of the feature’s environment / characters. As I mentioned above, there have been plenty of rom-coms out there that Hollywood has produced over the years and most (if not all) have all the same standards and beats that ultimately make-up the subgenre. It’s definitely a repetitive (I think that all of us can agree), but there’s a peculiar and beguiling charm that none one can deny. Maybe because the movies usually talk about happiness or romance or even just a light / mindless way for a viewer to escape reality (in a hyperreal movie world reality). To me, there quite fun and just something to listen to (as background noise) or to just simply get lost in….as a means to escape reality for roughly one and half / two hours. Case in point…Crazy Rich Asians (of which I love) or even something like Isn’t It Romantic (a rom-com satire / love-letter to the genre). Whatever the case, romantic comedies have become a main staple in theatrical motion pictures and there’s seem to be no stopping Tinseltown from churning out several features every year.
This brings me back to talking about Long Shot, a 2019 feature film that takes a lot of nuances and cues from the romantic comedy film subgenre. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much “pre” buzz about this movie until I saw the film’s movie trailers. While I did see the trailer a lot during my many theater outings, it definitely looked funny, especially considering the story’s premise and the two cast leads (i.e. Theron and Rogen). It definitely had potential, which intrigued me to go see it. So, I decided to see it on its opening night, hoping that Long Shot proved to be a good romantic comedy-ish endeavor. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite a few problems in its cinematic structure, Long Shot is a surpassingly fun take on the romantic comedy genre. It’s not the best rom-com to come out from Hollywood, but its definitely a solid one that’s worth a glance.
Long Shot is directed by Jonathan Levine, whose previous known for directing several comedies features, including 50 / 50, Warm Bodies, The Night Before, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Given his attraction and directorial takes towards comedy endeavors, Levine seems like an appropriate choice for helming a film like this. In that regard, Levine succeeds by making Long Shot different from his other past projects. With the nature of the story being told, Levine entertains the idea of romantic comedies for Long Shot, embracing the familiar storyline narrative for this feature, especially the handling of both Fields and Flarsky and how their relationship forms throughout (be it good, bad, or just plain humorous). Additionally, the story, which was penned by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, finds its pattern early on in the movie; settling for a traditional rom-com narrative path that’s pleasing to watch / unfold (even though its predictable in nature) and certainly follows the trend of Levine’s directorial vision for the film. With a nose for comedy, Levine also stages plenty of comical scenes that are peppered throughout the film, while also layering the movie with a mask of political satire. It’s definitely a somewhat of a “curve ball” for the romantic comedy theater genre, but its an experimental arena that ultimately works. Of course, there are a few bumps that Levine can’t escape in its undertaking (more on that below), but I felt that the Levine’s presentation and directorial work on the Long Shot is solid.
This brings me around to talking about the film’s comedy. To be sure, it is more in-line with the comedy angst and routines one would find in a Seth Rogen film, with plenty of raunchy humor and crass joke / gags that play throughout and for laughs. Some might like it (thinking of it as low-grade humor), but I did kind of expect it to be like that (judging from the snippets from the film’s trailer). Thus, it didn’t bother me, so I liked it as I did laugh (out loud) at some of the jokes. Of course, some of the comedy doesn’t hit its mark correctly, but Long Shot’s humor gets more right than wrong in landing its punchline.
In terms of presentation, I was surprised on how much Long Shot looks appealing to the eye. Of course, the movie will probably not be nominated or win any worlds for its technical achievements, but it’s definitely a well-made film that really does look quite impressive for a rom-com theatrical feature. With the movie’s political world of galas and functions of elites, delegates, and leaders, I felt that the background setting of the film (i.e. locations, decorum, and costumes) were pretty good and did lend some “believable weight” to the feature’s proceedings and execution. Thus, the talents of Kalina Ivanov (production designs), Melissa Villegas Solórzano (set decorations), and Mary E. Vogt (costumes designs) are noteworthy on the Long Shot. The cinematography work by Yves Belanger does also offer up some nifty usage of lightening and camera angles in several key moments of the film. Additionally, while the music score in the feature, which was composed by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins, is great and does feel very much like a rom-com movie (melodies and flourishes and all), there are few musical song selections that are scattered throughout the movie and do feel catchy when played.
There are a few key areas of which Long Shot comes up empty handed, shortchanging the potential that the feature could’ve achieved. Perhaps the most noticeable one is the simply fact of the rom-com narrative. As stated above, the whole idea of romantic comedies has been done, redone, retooled, repurpose in a wide array motion pictures throughout the years. Thus, it goes without saying that the standard narrative structures of these types of movies has been clearly formatted on these endeavors; finding each one to be vey much the same thing of traversing / plotting a course to a predictable ending. Long Shot, despite its political satire setting, follows the rom-com formula to a “T”. To me, I was able to predict what was gonna ultimately happen in the film within the first five minutes. It’s not really “rocket science”, but I was expecting something a little bit more “diverse” to the subgenre, especially the romantic comedies are a dime a dozen in the movie world. There’s some intrigue within the political affairs that offer up something a bit “new” within the feature’s narrative arc, but the overall story of Charlotte Fields and Fred Flarsky (through the trials and tribulations in Long Shot) is quite predictable from start to finish. It’s kind of the “name of the game” when trying to do a romantic comedy movie, but (like I said) I was expecting something a bit more from Sterling and Hannah’s story / script.
My other big gripe is that the movie seems a bit more “charged” in the first half versus the second half. What do I mean? Well, with the Long Shot having a runtime two hours and five minutes (i.e. 125 minutes), there’s a lot of ground to cover and some things in the film feel a bit underutilized and underwhelming. Personally, I felt that the first half of the feature was funnier and more entertaining than the latter half. I’m not saying the movie sluggish or boring or anything like that, but the second part of Long Shot is the more plot driven front, which is the standard big obstacle narrative plot device comes into play and threatens everyone. Thus, the movie becomes a bit less interesting and just simply feels like Levine (and Sterling / Hannah’s script) are “going through the motions” of romantic comedy storytelling. Again, I wanted to see something new / creative rather than the same old story structure.
Another issue is that Levine makes Long Shot feel a bit preachy within its political context and situations. What do I mean? Well, Levine, Sterling, and Hannah certainly do make the feature feel very much a setting 2019 movie endeavor by taking cues and characterizations from today’s current political world / arena. Thus, certain refences by several characters are made and even some characters are unmistakable illusions to some political figures. Given the political satire of the film, I was kind of expecting this, but Levine’s work and Sterling / Hannah’s story is a bit “on the nose” in trying to make those parallel connections between the movie’s characters and their real-life counterpoints. Some people might laugh it, some people might criticize it, and some people might just be in the middle about it. To me, I am one of those people in the middle. It’s okay, but it’s a little bit preachy and contrive. Yes, we (the viewers) get it, but the statement that Long Shot is trying to make gets confused and its thematic message becomes watered down. That being said, there is a good virtue towards the end of the film (shared by characters Fred Flarsky and Lance) that speaks on appealing to human nature (appealing to both sides and looking past what political parties a person has) in a very toxic political arena, which is greatly reflected upon in today’s US domestic affairs.
Perhaps the biggest strengths that the Long Shot has going for it is in it’s two protagonist leads, with actress Charlize Theron and actor Seth Rogen playing the feature’s central characters of Charlotte Fields and Fred Flarsky. To be quite sure, both Theron and Rogen are quite the most “unlikeliest” people to be pair together (romantically), but they certainly do make for some great screen time together in how they interact with each other, especially the scenes in how Levine portrays the polar opposites of Fields and Flarsky. Theron, known for her roles in Monster, Atomic Blonde, and Mad Max: Fury Road, has always been talented actress and mostly finds her “groove” within the either the badass femme fatale archetype or in a typical sinister villain (see Snow White and the Huntsman and The Fate of the Furious). Thus, it’s kind of fun to see the more “lighter side” of Theron in which she does in Long Shot: making Fields a dedicated worker to her job and (throughout the course of the movie) lends her guard down for some fun and personal time. As to be expected, Rogen, known for his roles in Knocked Up, Superbad, and The Night Before, feels sort of at home within his character of Fred Flarsky; a bumbling / doof like character that Rogen is known for playing in many of his projects. Again, it’s not anything new to him, but Rogen’s portrayal of Flarsky is quite fun and endearing to watch. Plus, it’s a great foil for Theron’s “straight laced” iteration of Fields.
In side character supporting roles are actress are the characters of Fred’s best friend Lance and one of Field’s key staffer Maggie Millikin, who are played by actor / rapper (OMG) O’Shea Jackson Jr. and actress June Diane Raphael (Blockers and The Disaster Artist). Together, both these roles are quite amusing in Long Shot, finding each character having their own comical moments in the film. Sure, they aren’t quite as rounded and are, more or less, predictable side characters, but Jackson Jr. and Raphael certainly do bring a certain charm to their roles of Lance and Maggie, especially in how both interact with Rogen’s Flarsky.
Several other minor characters are played by actor Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul and Incredibles 2) as US President Chambers, actor Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) as international media mogul Parker Wembley, and actor Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood and Big Little Lies) as the Prime Minister of Canada James Steward. Collectively, these characters are the ones that I mentioned above in how the movie is a bit “on the nose” in being uncanny illusion to several politics figures in the real world. It’s definitely easy to point who they are, but they come off as thinly caricatures rather than full-fledged supporting characters. Sure, Odenkirk, Serkis, and Skarsgard are great actors, but their roles in Long Shot are not memorable at all, with some just being comical “window dressing” for certain characters and / or plot points.
Rounding out the cast are several minor characters, including Ravi Patel (Grandfathered and Wrecked) as one of Field’s key staffers Tom, actor Randall Park (Office Christmas Party and Trainwreck) as Flarsky’s old journalist boss, actress Lisa Kudrow (Friends and The Comeback) as the head of Field’s poll team Katherine, and actor Tristan D. Lalla (Red 2 and Bad Blood) as Agent M. Additionally, there are few cameo appearances from musical performers that appear in the movie, so be on the lookout for them.
Political views, maneuvers raunchy humor, and endearing effect of rom-com nuances are the main staples of the film Long Shot. Director Jonathan Levine’s latest feature takes the classic romantic comedy narrative and adds a new wrinkle into it, layering the tried and true storyline premise within a political satire arena. While the film can’t escape the predictable / formulaic nature of a romantic comedy endeavor as well as a few preachy political moments, the movie certainly does a have fun / raunchy charm that held together by the performances of Theron and Rogen as well as a few jokes and gags moments. Personally, I liked it. Sure, it definitely could’ve been better (especially the latter half), but I find the film to be amusing and a good distraction for rom-com lite entertainment. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a “recommended” as it something worth watching to pass the time and enjoy a few chuckles along the way. While the movie isn’t exactly “the must-see comedy film of 2019” (as its marketing campaign promised), but Long Shot provides to be an effective jolt to the favorite rom-com genre with a political setting, crass humor, and a feel-good attitude.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: May 3rd, 2019
Reviewed On: May 17th, 2019
Long Shot is 125 minutes long and is rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use