It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least in cinematic comedies of the past decade or so, that just about every woman on-screen must be in want of Seth Rogen. From Knocked Up to Zack and Miri Make a Porno to Neighbors, Hollywood has continually presented the star as a romantic lead while marveling at the supposed ludicrousness of the concept, to the extent that his new vehicle is a rom-com called Long Shot. The premise? That Rogen, playing to type as an avuncular, bearded fellow who’s no stranger to sweatpants, gets entangled in a relationship with an impressive and a spectacularly beautiful politician played by Charlize Theron.
The director, Jonathan Levine, has built an entire film around the idea that the mere possibility of Theron falling for Rogen is so extreme as to be worth dramatizing. But after all these years, isn’t it time to admit that Rogen is one of the only consistently compelling love interests in cinema right now, be it by default or not? With square-jawed beefcakes like the Chrises Evans, Pratt, and Hemsworth tied up in saving the world, Rogen may not be such a long shot for audiences after all. Underneath the hyperbolic, odd-couple marketing and titling of this film beats the heart of a pretty standard, extremely watchable love story with a dash of political comedy—think The American President for the age of Twitter and edibles.
The plot follows Fred Flarsky (played by Rogen), a left-leaning investigative journalist who loses his job when his agitprop publication is absorbed into a larger media conglomerate. Flarsky, as a boy, had a crush on his babysitter, a headstrong girl named Charlotte Field (Theron) who lived next door. Now she’s secretary of state to a buffoon of a president (Bob Odenkirk), preparing to spin up her own campaign to succeed him, and impressive and famous enough to be embroiled in a flirtation with the handsome prime minister of Canada (Alexander Skarsgård). After a chance encounter with Flarsky at a party, Field brings him on board her campaign as a speechwriter, and their friendship develops into a full-blown clandestine affair as they tour the world testing her policy positions.
If anything, the biggest problem with Long Shot is that it’s a little too basic, struggling to match its weak plotting to Theron and Rogen’s excellent chemistry. The movie’s 125-minute run time is unconscionable considering that the story could easily be resolved in 90: Low-status boy meets high-status girl; they hit it off nonetheless, and then have to navigate a few expected difficulties. Still, given the paucity of onscreen romance in theaters these days (Netflix has made more of an effort on this front than any other major studio), Long Shot is almost automatically easy to enjoy. Its two stars are consummate pros doing what they do best: Rogen projecting everyman awkwardness, and Theron wearing her self-consciousness on her sleeve while still looking fabulous (think of her great recent work in Tully, but with a little more glamour). While Rogen’s own comic persona, all growly voiced and bumbling, is well established by now, he’s also an underrated comic partner who has helped spur career-funniest performances from many an actor.
As Field, Theron finds the right balance of superstardom and vulnerability, playing off the way many powerful women in politics are unfairly judged as distant, unfunny, or intimidating. Flarsky is brought aboard to give Field’s campaign a chummier vibe, and Rogen himself unlocks Theron’s skill for boisterous, fratty humor. There’s a set piece about Field trying the drug Molly for the first time, and another about the surprising speed with which she reaches orgasm. Those more manic elements all feel a little tired, though; Hollywood comedies have already made the point, time and time again, that girls can be just as gross as boys. Instead, Long Shot thrives on Theron and Rogen’s verbal repartee and the more mundane issues in their relationship, where her need to compromise as a political candidate clashes with his vague idealism about shaking up the system.
The screenplay (by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah) might have benefited from digging into some of the ideological differences between Flarsky and Field, but it usually opts to go silly and broad, bringing in friends played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. and June Diane Raphael for fizzy one-liners that gloss over deeper conflicts. Flarsky’s topical interests, and most of the film’s insights into geopolitics, are intentionally hazy. He has the dressed-down look and attitude of a “dirtbag lefty,” but his thoughts don’t extend much beyond a general distaste for big business and The Man. In the end, Long Shot is too fixated on the supposed absurdity of its romantic pair to spend much time considering them as people. Which is a shame, because the human moments are the only parts where the film really shines.