Saturday, April 20, 2019

Long Shot Is More Agreeable Than Memorable But At Least It's Frequently Funny

Though they usually have enough gross-out gags to fill out an army of Seann William Scott starring vehicles, comedic vehicles for Seth Rogen and his fellow cohorts like Judd Apatow have always had a penchant for treating romantic subplots with surprising levels of seriousness. Starting with The 40-Year-Old Virgin back in 2005, these types of films seemed to make a promise to viewers to keep the jokes about male genitalia coming at a steady rate but also to treat romance as something with actual weight and heart. Trying to balance raunch with heart has had varying degrees of success, but it is an element that separates it from, say, Happy Madison or recent Will Ferrell vehicles where heartfelt moments feel obligatory rather than affecting.

That balance is put to heavy use in the newest Seth Rogen vehicle Long Shot, which sees Rogen play Fred Flarsky, a journalist who happens to run into his old babysitter and former crush, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), at a ritzy gala. Charlotte is now the U.S. Secretary of State whereas Flarsky is an unemployed journalist, an unlikely pairing if there ever was one. But the two hit it off after reuniting for the first time in years and soon after, Charlotte, while putting together a 2020 presidential run, decides to hire Fred as her speech-writer. In order to do his job properly, Fred decides to spend extended periods of time with Charlotte so that he can write her speeches with a more personal touch, which allows the two of them to grow much much closer together.

Attempting to create equilibrium between straight-faced romance and goofy R-rated humor isn't the only way the Jonathan Levine directorial effort Long Shot echoes past Seth Rogen films. Like his prior features The Night Before or The Interview, Long Shot does run too long and suffers from some unimaginative cinematography and editing choices. A fault more unique to this specific film is the issue of how a number of the supporting characters simply aren't as funny as they could have been, too many of them feel like broad archetypes or narrative devices rather than sources of comedy. For instance, Charlotte has an assistant played by June Diane Raphael that serves as solely a way to drum up disdain for Fred without much in the way of a personality or comedy to accompany that contempt.

Other supporting figures played by the likes of Alexander Skarsgard and Ravi Patel similarly are on hand to primarily move the plot forward rather than actually deliver memorable pieces of humor, which feels like a waste. Luckily, the script by Dan Sterlin and Liz Hannah compensates for the more forgettable supporting characters as well a  story that's overly familiar in some respects by delivering on the humor when it comes to the lead characters, a crucial aspect in any romantic comedy. Much of this comedy comes from making sure there are plenty of laughs to be had in the low-key interactions between Fred and Charlotte. Just watching the two characters chit-chat provides ample levels of humor, especially since they allow Charlotte to have moments of vibrant levity rather than just play a straight man to Seth Rogen's character. Even better, the time Fred and Charlotte spend together helps make them bond enough that their eventual romance becomes a believable turn of events.

Rogen and Theron, two actors nobody would have ever thought to put together before this, turn out to be a fun pairing for a romantic comedy and their work together manages to allow both of them to show off underutilized sides of themselves as actors. Rogen proved he could go toe-to-toe with experienced dramatic thespians in the excellent Steve Jobs and that ability of his allows him to solidly engage with Theron in more serious sequences in Long Shot dealing with their characters romantic relationship without coming off like he doesn't belong here. Meanwhile, Theron's comic chops from Arrested Development (Mr. F!) are put to good use here as she has enjoyable comic chemistry with Rogen and her delightful physical comedy had me cackling in an extended sequence depicting her character on the drug Molly.

In the supporting cast of Long Shot, leaving the biggest impression by far is O'Shea Jackson Jr. and just like he did with his hysterical supporting role in Ingrid Goes West, he might just walk away with the whole movie too. Delivering a scene-stealing turn as Fred's best buddy Lance, Jackson gets all the best lines in Long Shot and delivers them with exceptional levels of comic timing. I wish more of the supporting players were as humorous as Lance, but at least Long Shot's supporting cast does deliver a top-notch O'Shea Jackson Jr. performance. His work in the film, plus Rogen and Theron doing solid work in the lead roles, help make sure that Long Shot ends up being the kind of romantic comedy that isn't all that remarkable but is frequently amiable and more often than not humorous. Oh, and the romantic stuff in Long Shot is indeed treated with dramatic heft, what else would one expect from a Seth Rogen vehicle?

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