PLOT An elegant female politician falls for a schlubby journalist.
CAST Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
RATED R (language and crude humor)
BOTTOM LINE A slight but sweet rom-com with a couple of modern twists.
If you’re in the mood to raise objections, you’ll find plenty of opportunities in “Long Shot.” Starring Charlize Theron as an elegant presidential candidate who begins sleeping with her slovenly speechwriter (Seth Rogen), the film is filled with imbalances and double standards.
Is it cool that Hollywood has once again paired an average-looking male with a classically beautiful female? Or that the film has no qualms about a boss sleeping with an underling? If the gender roles were reversed, would this film have gotten made?
The answer on all counts is no, but “Long Shot” manages to succeed anyway. It’s a charming little movie with two endearing leads and just the right mix of raunchy humor and tenderness. With a little more ambition, it might have tackled any number of ticklish subjects: gender roles, changing expectations, simmering resentments. Instead, director Jonathan Levine (“Warm Bodies”) goes for a pleasantly old-fashioned vibe, somewhere between classic screwball and ‘90s-era romance.
A few modern wrinkles are built into the screenplay (by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah). For starters, Theron’s Charlotte Field is a woman who has it all: Wealth, power, beauty. When the current empty-suit president (Bob Odenkirk) decides not to run again, Field seizes her moment. Focus groups see her as capable and smart, but not very funny. Charlotte will need a speechwriter.
Enter Rogen’s Fred Flarsky, a newly unemployed journalist in Brooklyn. Thanks to his wealthy best friend, Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Fred meets Charlotte at a fancy party and — unexpectedly — sparks fly. The easygoing guy in the unfashionable windbreaker gets a few laughs out of the gorgeous but tightly-wound politician. He’s hired.
“Long Shot” rather nicely shows us the blossoming of a relationship stage by stage, from initial uncertainty to shy attraction to unbridled passion. Most of the credit goes to the actors. Rogen has never been so boyishly charming, and Theron visibly melts, almost muscle by muscle, whenever she’s near him. Why, though, must this relationship be kept a secret? Mostly because Fred is kind of schlubby. That isn’t much of a reason, and it doesn’t create the kind of dramatic tension that a rom-com needs.
In an oddly prescient turn, “Long Shot” features a media mogul named Wembley (Andy Serkis) whose evil scheme is uncannily similar to one we recently saw from David Pecker, owner of the National Enquirer. Otherwise, though, “Long Shot” isn’t much interested in current events. It’s more inclined to snuggle into its comfort zone, which is not a bad place to be.
As an actress, Charlize Theron seems determined not to play the same kind of role twice. Here’s a small sample of her widely varied roles:
MONSTER (2003) Theron established herself as a serious actor by gaining 30 pounds and wearing false teeth to play the serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The performance won her the Oscar for best actress.
AEON FLUX (2005) Based on the animated series, this sci-fi film seemed like Theron’s attempt at a franchise. It didn’t work.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) Mel Gibson is replaced by Tom Hardy in this sequel, but it’s Theron who commands the screen as the bald, one-armed, rage-filled Imperator Furiosa. The film became a surprise critical smash and earned $378 million at the global box-office.
TULLY (2018) Theron again gained weight — this time nearly 50 pounds — to play an exhausted mother who turns to a night-nanny (Mackenzie Davis) for help. An overlooked gem directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”)
— RAFER GUZMAN