Comedy isn’t as easy to pull off as some think.
Just imagine all the comedies that have come out of Hollywood over the past 20 years; movies carrying the intent to make you laugh and get you to tell others about it. Basically hundreds of people and months of work stuffed into a body walking up on a stage in Los Angeles trying to elicit laughs from an audience who has seen it all.
What’s the secret to a great comedy? A smart script and actors who know how to mix in the right amount of drama to ground the film. Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot is an example of taking an old formula, breathing fresh life into it, mixing in pop culture references that aren’t tired, and creating an experience.
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen wouldn’t be the first duo for a romantic comedy that would come to my mind, but Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling’s politically savvy script make the dialogue and story fit in nice and snug with some charm coming out on the other side of this film’s top moments.
Theron is the Secretary of State to a hapless President and former television star (Bob Odenkirk, doing his best not to channel too much Trump). Her Charlotte Field has bigger ambitions of course, and when she is given a path to the White House, she brings on the guy who had a crush on her as a kid, a blunt journalist named Fred Flarsky (Rogen), to sharpen up her speeches and help add some humor to her profile. Field is the near perfect woman who needs to be more funny and fix her wave so she can be President.
All of this works due to the chemistry the two stars have in this film. Theron adds “comedy wizard” to her long list of abilities, nailing the true ambition of Field while showing the wild side that this comedy needs and that Rogen’s Fred can thankfully exploit for our pleasure. She continues to impress me. Say what you want about Rogen, but he knows where his wheelhouse is and thrives in this zone. He knows how to flip dialogue, spinning jokes and adding raw honesty into crafting a humbling depiction of a guy getting the chance of a lifetime with the girl of his dreams.
When you see these two together sharing romantic scenes and shake your head a little, that’s the intent and the reason the movie has its title. Hannah and Sterling’s script doesn’t miss one attempt to make fun of the situation, even adding in the required assistant (June Diane Raphael) who berates Fred at any cost while sharing some secrets of her own.
The obvious works here due to some hilarious scenes and pop culture references, including a helping of Boyz II Men and the use of the Pretty Woman soundtrack. Hannah and Sterling also mix in some intriguing political commentary, and do so without beating the viewer over the head with it. While you see the Trump right wing President in Odenkirk’s Chambers, you do get an honest glimpse at the current state of Washington in the needs of the economy and the white-washing nature of making a living in politics. Field wants to make a dent with an environmental solution that would bind countries together in helping the world defeat pollution, but of course she faces pushback from above.
There’s even an evil and obnoxious big money lobbyist played by Andy Serkis inserted to make a couple plot threads connect easily in the early part of the film and the climax. Thanks to the motion capture genius’ ability to disappear, his Wembley isn’t a complete caricature. O’Shea Jackson (Straight Outta Compton, Den of Thieves) plays Fred’s best friend, aka the most understanding and supportive friend of all time who knows the first rule of cheering up a sad fella is pouring alcohol and CBD oil into a can of La Croix.
While there is predictable conventions in the plot, the film thrives on star power and a large amount of laughs. The use of social media, as well as timely nods to the current phenomenons of the moment, Game of Thrones and The Marvel Cinematic Universe, also gets playful mileage here.
Here’s the thing. I laughed a lot, smiled in the end, and enjoyed what Theron and Rogen were serving up. While Long Shot didn’t reinvent the wheel nor turn Levine into the next Spielberg, it had enough juice from fresh jokes and gamesmanship from its stars to be a successful outing at the movies.