Long Shot: It’s Where the Wind Blows, by David Bax
Romantic comedies and memorable music go hand in hand. So the songs on the soundtrack alone should make you confident that Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot will be a good entry in the genre. In one of the movie’s many sweet moments, in fact, the two lovers actually listen to the Pretty Woman soundtrack. In another, Frank Ocean is heard while a character gazes out at the actual ocean. Boyz II Men appear and perform as themselves. We also hear bits of DMX, 2 Chainz, Bruce Springsteen, Robyn and more. The best part of all this great music is that Levine actually clears, by a good margin, the high bar that it sets. Long Shot rocks.
Seth Rogen stars as Fred Flarsky, an investigative journalist writing inflammatory stories for an independent news site. Until, that is, his editor (Randall Park) tells him that the site’s been purchased by a soulless media magnate (Andy Serkis) and Flarsky quits. While on a celebratory/grieving bender accommodated by his rich best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Fred finds himself at a swanky fundraising event where he comes face to face with Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), his former babysitter who also happens to be the current Secretary of State. Out of nostalgia and a genuine respect for his writing, Charlotte offers Fred a speechwriting job on her upcoming presidential campaign. As he follows her around the world on her diplomatic duties, they start to see more than just a shared past in one another, though obstacles arise in the form of Charlotte’s advisors (June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel), the President (Bob Odenkirk) and the myriad political realities of the world.
Refreshingly, Long Shot is not gunshy about facing those realities. This has to be the only romantic comedy that opens with a bunch of neo-Nazis sieg heiling in front of Confederate flags (Fred has gone undercover for a story). The resurgence of white supremacy may be the rawest nerve struck by screenwriters Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling but it’s not the only one. From the death of independent media to a TV celebrity idiot President to the propagandistic “news” network that supports him to the name of the firm Charlotte hires to help with her campaign (Cambridge Consulting), Long Shot is a movie of our moment.
That probably makes Long Shot sound less than fun but all of it–even the neo-Nazi party–is extremely hilarious. Rogen is one of the core members of the Judd Apatow crew, who made a couple of funny movies in the mid-2000s that, unfortunately, had a devastating effect on Hollywood comedies. The use of improvisation, at which Rogen and company excel, became the norm in these kinds of films. As a result, we were served a decade of sweaty, shambolic, overlong imitators. Long Shot has a couple of possible riffs in it but, not only are they funny, they are outweighed by the number of written jokes as well as more intrinsic, filmic humor, like the flashback to 12-year-old Fred in which he’s wearing essentially the same outfit as present day Fred.
Theron is a sharp comedic force, as well; no surprise to anyone who’s seen her in Young Adult or on Arrested Development. You can now add to her list of achievements an all-time great spit take. Comedy breeds chemistry, perhaps, because Long Shot is just as effective a romance as a comedy.
And yet, like most of the best romantic comedies, it’s about more than that. Fred may be the lead but Charlotte’s not just along for the ride. Nor is he her manic pixie dream boy. The biggest symptom of maturation since the Apatow years is the two main characters’ balance and nuance. Comparisons to Knocked Up will be made, mostly due to his casual dress and her elegance. But unlike Ben in that movie, Fred is by no means directionless. On the contrary, his character flaw is a surplus of passion. His idealism is attractive to her but the intransigence that goes with it almost undoes their relationship. She, on the other hand, has gone from the can-do student body presidential candidate to the equivocating professional politician. In other words, he needs to learn to compromise more and she to compromise less. That’s what makes Fred and Charlotte such a strong couple and Long Shot such a strong movie. They make each other better people.