This film review of “Long Shot” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 9 May 2019
Directed by Jonathan Levine; written by Dann Sterling and Liz Hannah; starring Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk and Alexander Skarsgård
There is little that is new in the romantic comedy “Long Shot”. In the opening scene, nerdy Jewish guy Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogan) attempts to infiltrate a white power neo-Nazi group (try “BlacKkKlansman”). Later a stunning-looking US Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) makes a presidential bid (think “Madam Secretary” with a dose of “Veep”). Nerdy Jewish guy (Flarsky) beds an attractive shiksa (Theron) – how about “Knocked Up”, which starred … Seth Rogen.
“Long Shot” is highly derivative and deceptively simple, but also an astonishingly well-constructed comedy. It does what all good comedies must: it entertains, an “audience pleaser” set firmly in a fantasy “present day” not unlike our own. Isn’t that one reason for going to the movies – to experience a more perfect world where the nerdy guy gets the girl, even if she’s super powerful?
The set up: Fred Flarsky (Rogan) is a crusading New York journalist working for the “Brooklyn Advocate”, a large but struggling community newspaper. When the newspaper is bought by slimy media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), Flarsky quits in disgust. Invited by his friend, African-American Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), to a reception, Flarsky meets Charlotte the Secretary of State, who used to baby-sit him during her activist high school years. Charlotte offers Fred a job as a speechwriter in her incipient political campaign, and the two grow close, based on his support for her policies.
“Long Shot” benefits from exquisite timing, fabulous and well-chosen pop culture references (including my favourite, Bruce Springsteen) and a few wonderful coincidences: the film’s action starts now, mid-2019, in the early stage lead-up to the American 2020 presidential election. US President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) – a clownish character, something of a cross between George W Bush and Donald J Trump – is a former Golden Globe-winning TV star of a series where he played … the US President, and he revels in watching re-runs of himself. Think both Trump and Ronald Reagan, but has anyone noticed that a former TV star who played the Ukrainian president just won the actual presidency of Ukraine? No screenwriter could have predicted that.
President Chambers decides to step down after just one term because he is aiming for “something higher”: he wants to break into film, which only a few TV stars have done – George Clooney, being one. This lovely satire on the intersection between American politics and film and TV pointedly hits the mark, but is hilarious played “straight” by the characters.
“Long Shot” takes a progressive political viewpoint: Secretary of State and presidential candidate Field advocates for a major world environmental initiative. But it includes a scene reminiscent of when the Kathy Bates character in “The Blind Side” warns the Sandra Bullock character that she’s a Democrat, apparently a no-no in polite southern WASP society. Flarsky’s long-time best friend Lance reveals that he is not only a Republican, but a Christian. What could have been a sloppy, soppy scene turns into a touching recap of what’s good about America, extolling many of the almost forgotten qualities that Republicans have brought to US life.
The plot doesn’t need that scene, but it cleverly places “Long Shot” closer to the centre of the American body politic. The scene may be good for the box office, but is it believable? Not on your life, although the film’s greatest weakness is the Flarsky-Field romance: it’s hard to believe that a statuesque and powerful American female politician would choose the scruffy Flarsky for her beau. No matter; we intellectual Jewish guys now have yet another film that celebrates our virtues.