Like many rom-com heroines, Long Shot’s Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has an aspirational job, a glitzy wardrobe that makes zero sense for her salary, and an unwitting need for the right guy to come along, loosen her up, and inject some fun into her life. Unlike many rom-com heroines, Charlotte curses, has sex, occasionally wears dowdy pantsuits, and, most notably, throws even more of herself into her career at the end of the movie, to the absolute delight of her male partner, Fred (Seth Rogen). In Long Shot’s world—as in ours—public-facing women are relentlessly scrutinized, and powerful ones are generally considered too intimidating to date. The film’s irresistible fantasy—and hopefully, increasingly, our reality—is that there are men who are perfectly content supporting their high-powered wives, just as women have been doing for their husbands for most of recorded history.
Helmed by Jonathan Levine, who also directed Rogen in 50/50 and The Night Before, and based on a screenplay by Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post), Long Shot fits neatly in the actor’s wheelhouse in most ways. It features a solid joke just about every minute—many of them about masturbation, pop culture, and Rogen’s character’s Jewishness. It also includes a getting-high sequence, unabashedly liberal politics, and more than a twinge of self-pity about Rogen’s honestly-pretty-good looks (more on this later). But Long Shot feels like something new, too—a brogressive rom-com that mixes inconvenient boners and aerodynamic cum with extensive observations about sexism and a rare romanticization of the male helpmate. The movie doesn’t get all its gender dynamics right, and an out-of-nowhere call for bipartisan cooperation feels like a ham-fisted insertion by a nervous studio exec. But all the way up to its own version of a happy ending, it’s a fresh, timely spin on the rom-com formula, the next step forward after the feminist strides in Rogen’s Neighbors movies and a possible new path for dude comedies that are no longer content to pretend that women don’t have our own stuff going on.
Before it refers to the disparity in status and attractiveness between Charlotte and Fred, the “long shot” of the title describes the presidential prospects of Charlotte, the youngest secretary of state ever and a frequent target of ogling by conservative pundits. Charlotte serves a popular, numpty president (Bob Odenkirk) who became commander-in-chief by playing one on TV (his favorite line: “I’m not nuking a tsunami!”), and who has to be tricked into thinking her ideas are his to implement them. When her boss decides he’d rather pursue a movie career than seek reelection, Charlotte decides to throw her hat into the ring—and after a series of convolutions, hires as one of her speechwriters the unemployed firebrand journalist Fred, whom she used to babysit 25 years ago. Charlotte and her team travel to nearly two dozen countries together as she attempts to sell an environmental deal that will make her a competitive candidate, and in such close-quartered conditions, the politico and the writer fall for each other’s idealism and accomplishments, even as they disagree on whether it’s OK to compromise to effect change. (Anyone still smarting from the intra-Democratic battles of 2016 should find some salve in this romance between Hot Hillary and a Bernie bro.) But when Charlotte wins the sitting president’s endorsement, her protective aide (June Diane Raphael) warns that the public won’t accept a model-esque woman with a schlub like Fred. Apparently the voters in this universe have never seen most movies, television shows, lots and lots of real-life couples—or simply don’t register that “mixed-attractiveness” relationships aren’t all that rare.
Rogen is as funny as he’s ever been, but it’s Theron who’s the standout. She makes the absurdities of Charlotte’s life, like being unable to eat skewered foods in public or “micro-napping” while standing with her eyes open, seem not only believable, but human. The movie has plenty of compassion for the thousand and one constraints Charlotte has to keep in mind at all times (don’t be “angry,” but don’t be “weak”), but what hits hardest are the moments when we see her breezily commanding leadership in action. In front of the cameras, she’s buttoned-up but learning how to open up (mostly through the jokes and autobiographical details Fred peppers into her speeches). But when she needs to get things done behind the scenes, she displays a surgical decisiveness, a treasure trove of wonky knowledge, and a no-bullshit matter-of-factness that’s impossible not to get a girl crush on. It’s the kind of nonpathologized portrayal of a woman taking charge that knocks you off your seat because you hadn’t realized how much you were missing it. I do wish we’d gotten to see Charlotte actually making deals, though—Long Shot would have you believe that being secretary of state is just jet-setting around the world, attending fancy parties, and tangoing with the prime minister of Canada (Alexander Skarsgard, in a hilarious sendup of his beefcake image).
The eleventh hour in a rom-com tends to be my least favorite, when the destined couple mope around for a few minutes before reuniting for the final time. But the one in Long Shot is particularly aggravating, largely contingent as it is on Rogen’s supposed hideousness. Rogen is clearly responding to one particular strain of the backlash against Knocked Up that pointed to the attractiveness gap between him and co-star Katherine Heigl—a criticism meant to draw attention to the ostensible sexism of the movie as well as of the industry at large. But the excessive focus on Fred’s everydude appearance—after such well-earned sympathy for the crap Charlotte puts up with every day—feels like, to put it in political-coverage terms, false balance. Fortunately, Long Shot soon remembers that Fred’s most lovable quality doesn’t have to be his looks.