'Long Shot' surprises by being clever, original and genuinely funny

Beating the odds

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Long Shot
Opens Friday, May 3
4.5 out of 5 stars

Oh, for the love of Pete, I cannot with another one of these male-fantasy rom-coms about a useless doofus dude pursuing a brilliant and accomplished absolute goddess because he is an idiot but also arrogantly deluded enough to think he has a chance with her ... and then getting rewarded by the movie by actually ending up with her.

So I thank the gods of cinema that that ain't what Long Shot is. Like, not at all, despite how the film has been marketed. The trailers make it a little clearer what this is about, but before I saw the movie I had only the posters to go by, and they really play up the impression that this is going to be yet another celebration of what may be the ultimate boy-movie daydream: That seriously, Jobless Guy Wearing No Pants, there isn't a woman alive who is out of your league.

I am over the moon to be able to report that Long Shot is more like House of Cards if it were less horrific, waaay more funny, and genuinely sweetly sexy. This is, astonishingly, a politics-meets–pop culture satire about an honest, dedicated, principled journalist, Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) – who isn't anything like a doofus but probably could use some Queer Eye help with his dress sense, and that definitely gets some clever comedic workout here – who reconnects with his one-time teenaged babysitter and first crush, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). This is propitious for both of them, because he's just quit his job with a progressive newspaper in protest over its being bought out by a Rupert Murdoch-esque right-wing billionaire troll, and she needs to hire a new – checks notes – speechwriter as she attempts to move up from her current job as – checks notes again – the U.S. Secretary of State to the big chair in the Oval Office. And she's so everything enough – intelligent, diplomatic, poised, savvy, ambitious, forward-thinking – that she might actually be able to achieve that.

Yes, OK, it's true that then Fred and Charlotte embark on a tentative workplace romance, but that isn't anywhere near as unlikely as it may at first appear from outside the movie, and it totally works within it. Because they are both authentically smart and cool. They have incredibly palpable chemistry. They have a lot in common, such as their past as kids together, and also – check notes one last time – wanting to save the world from our terrible, terrible leaders. Hello, there is definitely fantasy afoot here, but it's political and cultural, not sexual or romantic. Just the idea that people like Charlotte and Fred, liberal and open-minded and trying to make the world better for everyone, might succeed in getting the power they need to enact their ideals makes this truly a romantic comedy for our horrible times, when mere hope itself feels like a pipe dream.

But there's a level of culture-jamming going on in Long Shot, too, certainly in the delicious bait-and-switch that will, we can hope, sucker in some stoner dudebros and then, perhaps, slightly engage their interest in global politics, because why not be a well-rounded stoner dudebro? And I don't mean to denigrate stoner dudebros – everyone embodies human dignity, yo – and director Jonathan Levine has actually even done this before, with his surprisingly humane Christmas Eve dudebro bash The Night Before and even more unexpectedly compassionate dudebro-got-cancer dramedy 50/50. (If I had known in advance this was from Levine, I'd probably have been less startled by how sorta gosh-darn nice it sneakily is.)

Also Long Shot is just plain funny, in a way that is rare to experience. I don't often laugh out loud at the movies, frequently because what passes for "hilarious" onscreen, certainly in Hollywood comedies, is more about indignity and embarrassment than anything else, which I am almost never moved to laugh at. But it's possible to be kind and empathetic and also amusing, and Long Shot gets that. As a remarkable bonus, this movie features perhaps the funniest, most human sex scene ever, and nothing about it is mean-spirited or about humiliating anyone or shaming them for being interested in sex or wanting to have sex. It's a little microcosm for the movie overall: finding gentleness and companionship in like-minded friends, but also isn't this just the most wonderfully ridiculous thing ever?

The political stuff in Long Shot is legitimately and reasonably angry, but the intimate respite that Charlotte and Fred find from that is just plain lovely. We should all be so lucky.

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