“The past is never where you think you left it.” – Katherine Anne Porter
One year from now, the United States presidential election will completely dominate daily discourse. At this moment, anticipation is building for just who will end up competing and prospective candidates are out there trying to convince the public they’re the best fit for the job. Naturally, the movies have tried to cash in on this fever, and Long Shot is one of the better efforts.
Though regurgitating some genre conventions and featuring a sense of humor that isn’t for everyone, this film gets by more than well-enough thanks to the charms and abilities of its stars. It’s a team-up that sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does and amazingly so.
U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has just learned that President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) won’t be seeking another term and would like to endorse her to run in 2020. Gearing up for a campaign trail, her strategist (Lisa Kudrow) shows that favorable opinions of her are high, but a little lacking in the humor category. Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) has just resigned as a reporter for a small-scale left-wing news outlet when they are taken over by a giant media conglomerate. Unable to bounce back and feeling low, he is taken by his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to a fancy party with big time guests like Boyz II Men and, unbeknownst to him, Charlotte.
At that party, Charlotte and Fred bump into each for the first time in a quarter-century. As it turns out, they were neighbors growing up and she used to babysit him. This culminated in a very awkward and embarrassing declaration of love from Fred that left things on a sour note for him all this time. Fortunately, Charlotte doesn’t seem to remember the incident, and after he publicly chastises the mogul who bought his paper (Andy Serkis), someone who she also has a strong dislike of, she hires him as a speechwriter to help give her some more funny lines. In reconnecting, they find themselves not only crafting more honest and personable speeches, but also becoming lovers.
The romantic comedy story beats are familiar and fit to pattern, but a little different in that they’re playing out within an uncommon context. Charlotte’s assistant Maggie (June Diane Raphael) frequently has to urge her boss to be conscious of her public image, and Charlotte herself is afraid that being the one with power will be a turn off as it has proven to her in the past. Fred’s inevitable clashes with Charlotte come in the form of stances on her official duties and what one would like to do versus what they’re forced to do.
For the most part, the political parties are made vague. Fred is certainly a leftist, but it’s said that he reported on corruption of the Chambers administration, which would seem to imply that the President and Charlotte are on the right. Yet, she is not lionized and in fact held to scrutiny by the presumably-conservative news channel, and of course Fred is willing to work with her. Also her main initiative in the plot is an environmental one, which is conservative in the literal sense but often taken up by the other side as well. The words “Democrats” and “Republicans” are mentioned specifically in dialogue towards the end, but still not said who of the politicians belong to which.
The humor therefore isn’t really high-minded satire and leans more to Rogen’s comedy oeuvre than Theron’s, but the latter does show that she is completely game for whatever is thrown at her. She can certainly handle the stateliness aspect of the role, giving off an Elizabeth McCord vibe at those points. When it’s time to go into Selina Meyer mode and be crude, though, she gets right into it. Rogen, already reliable for this kind of material, gets some good physical bits in this time. And while underused, Jackson shows that comedically he’s a chip off the ol’ Cube.
If this type of comedy doesn’t put you off, consider giving this one a, um, shot. Real-life elections sure aren’t as funny as they used to be.