Romantic comedies have fallen down a wormhole into appearing to be cookie-cutter versions of themselves. It is rare that we get bold outings that attempt to break out from the typical story structures and molds. Sure, big blockbusters will generally stick to known forms in order to avoid risk and a big flop, but in the drama, comedy, and horror genres we’ve had independent filmmakers experiment with expectations. Only a handful of recent rom-coms (About Time (2013), Playing it Cool (2014)) have toed the line, and Long Shot (2019) seemed poised to shake up the game.
Long Shot is the story of the unlikely romance between Fred (Seth Rogen) an out of work journalist and Charlotte (Charlize Theron) the Secretary of State of the United States. Charlotte used to be Fred’s babysitter when they were young, and when bumping into him at a fundraiser. She decides to hire him as her speechwriter, considering he could add some humor to her persona as she considers a presidential run.
The film starts out with many echoes to the current societal and political times of the United States. In many ways the first act of the film plays like a mirror being held up to the American people; there is a scene at a white-nationalist rally, a TV star has become president, journalism is felt teetering as small newspapers are gobbled up by media behemoths, etc. This “setting of the table” added a sense of realism to the film that I was not expecting, in fact the first political scenes with Charlotte seem carried out with a seriousness and professionalism akin to a watered-down West Wing episode. However, as the rom-com themes begin to kick in, an implausible feeling settles in.
The premise of a goofy man and a pretty lady falling in love is what Adam Sandler made his career out of, and when the entire film is submerged in silliness (like his were), it is easier for the audience to buy in. However, given the very real and serious political setting (with sprinkled scenes of climate change pacts and prisoner negotiations), the shoved in goofiness and unlikely couple contrast in a very unforgiving light. Many viewers will be happy for the lighter tone in the film, but they will still struggle to believe in the central relationship.
Previous films about unlikely pairings have played to the couple’s chemistry or the charm of the “ugly duckling” partner. However, Theron and Rogen didn’t really have sparks flying out, from their every interaction, and Rogen himself has never been one to exude charisma; relying on his divisive bumbling personality instead. Between the political subplot and generic rom-com the courting stage between Fred and Charlotte is rushed and thus the flip from unlikely to real is handled too brusquely, leading to a fracturing of trust with the audience for the latter half of the film. It seems that from one scene to another there is an abrupt switch that is not explained or explored.
The film also has a surprising (accidental?) populist tone, where the poor and ignored man is recognized by the elite and powerful politician. In a time of incredible divide worldwide between the poor and the rich, this seemed to be the most poignant message and exploration in the film. There is an effective bridging in looking at the commonalities between each, like pop-culture or emotional vulnerability, however this aspect seems to be shamefully skimmed by the filmmakers; leading to my belief that its inclusion in the film was pure coincidence.
There were some very honest laughs, and the majority of the jokes were actually a delight to sit through. However, a romantic comedy needs to have its two fused genre work well together, and in Long Shot the romantic component was handled too messily, with the disbelief portion clashing with the realistic tone that had been set up at the beginning.