Friday, May 10, 2019

Movie Review: Long Shot

Long Shot *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Jonathan Levine.
Written by: Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling.
Starring: Charlize Theron (Charlotte Field), Seth Rogen (Fred Flarsky), June Diane Raphael (Maggie Millikin), O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Lance), Ravi Patel (Tom), Bob Odenkirk (President Chambers), Andy Serkis (Parker Wembley), Randall Park (Boss), Tristan D. Lalla (Agent M), Alexander Skarsgård (Prime Minister James Steward), Aladeen Tawfeek (Bharath), Aviva Mongillo (Young Charlotte), Braxton Herda (Young Fred), Lisa Kudrow (Katherine), Kurt Braunohler (Wembley News Anchor #1), Paul Scheer (Wembley News Anchor #2), Claudia O'Doherty (Wembley News Anchor #3). 
Other than playing a convincing Fast & Furious villain, I’m starting to think there is nothing that Charlize Theron cannot do. When you look at her best performances – her Oscar winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, as the cynical, bitter YA author in Young Adult, as the driven Furious in Mad Max: Fury Road among them – they are all great performances, and all very different from each other. Her work in Long Shot doesn’t quite rank among those performances – but it’s the type of charming, movie star performance that is a lot harder than it looks – and she makes it appear effortless. She pretty much carries the movie on her back, selling us on the fact that she is the most powerful woman in the world – deserves to be that, because she’s so smart and driven, and yet she would still fall for Seth Rogen, who is essentially playing the same character he always does. She makes it look like the easiest thing in the world – and it clearly wasn’t.
You can easily complain about Long Shot being another film that sells the audience on the idea that smart, attractive, driven, accomplished women should all fall for easy going schlubs like Rogen. It’s become an unwelcome trope, and usually one that isn’t done with any sort of real thought behind it. But Long Shot – from a screenplay by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling – does a really good job of differentiating this from other movies of its ilk. Overall, I don’t think the movie is as strong as Knocked Up was – but this movie does what that movie could not do, and make the female lead as interesting (in fact, far more interesting) and well-rounded as the male lead. Knocked Up was all about Rogen’s journey – and Heigl was just kind of there. In this one, the leads go through that journey together.
In the film, Theron plays the Secretary of State Charlotte Field under President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) – an actor who played the President on TV, and then was elected to the office for real. He’s an idiot – but she is not. When he announces to her that he isn’t going to seek a second term – he wants to try and make the jump to movies – she positions herself as his successor. She just wants to get a climate change pact passed – and have the rest of the countries sign on – and then resign and launch her Presidential campaign. Her aids – including the absolutely delightful June Diane Raphael as Maggie – think she’s a slam dunk. But she needs a speech writer to punch up her speeches a bit. That’s where Fred Flarsky (Rogen) comes in. He’s an old childhood friend, who has lost touch with her – and he’s just lost his job at a Brooklyn based paper that was acquired by a Rupert Murdoch like media mogul (played by Andy Serkis under a ton of makeup) – so soon Fred is hired to punch up her speeches. And as happens in all of these movies, the more laid back dude teaches the uptight woman to relax and have fun a little bit – and they start to fall for each other.
Except, it’s more complicated than that. Rogen is not an idiot slacker here – yes, he looks like one, but he’s actually smart and driven in his own ways. He has principles, and stands by them. He reminds Charlotte of her own principles, which have been worn down by years playing the political game. So while, yes, there are scenes where the two of them get stoned (another trope that should probably die – even if Theron kills it in those scenes) – but you actually do believe the intellectual connection between the two of them, even if the physical one remains, well, a long shot.
I don’t want to oversell the movie. In many ways, it is precisely the film you think it will be – elevated more than a little by Rogen and especially Theron. There are still more than few clichés, and a few wrong notes hit throughout – including Serkis, who is a distraction, and a scene late that basically argues that we should all just get along, which seems out of place. The obvious comparison to this film is Rob Reiner/Aaron Sorkin’s The American President – but that film had enough guts to be political, even if it offends some in the audience. Sure, climate change deniers may get made at this film, but they’re idiots. But it’s really hard to get much politics from the film. Still, it’s a charming movie – a fun movie, and proof that Charlize Theron can do just about anything.

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