Long Shot

The sexy woman/shlubby guy dynamic has been used in movies for a long time. Depending on your point of view, it's either a sexist male fantasy or, conversely, a heartwarming declaration that love should be greater than skin deep. Either way, Long Shot handles the concept more intelligently than most films utilizing it. What could have been a dopey, by-the-numbers romantic comedy is instead a funny, charming tale of two people willing to take a chance on love in the midst of an extreme situation.

Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, the U.S. Secretary of State who is thinking of making a 2020 presidential bid. At a party, she runs into firebrand journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). She used to babysit him as a teenager, and he always had a crush on her. Their reunion is a happy one, so Charlotte hires him to punch up her speeches. The slovenly-dressed, recreational drug-using Fred doesn't really fit into the world of international diplomacy. He's a hell of a writer, though, as her rising approval numbers attest. Spending time together leads to an intense connection, but it's obvious that he's not going to be great for her political image.

Mixing romance and political satire is a challenging proposition at best. Long Shot doesn't quite get the balance right. The story takes on some ambitious themes – like Charlotte trying to get 100 countries around the world to support an environmental proposal she's passionate about – that it simply doesn't have enough time to delve into in much detail. Same goes for a Rupert Murdoch-ian media mogul (Andy Serkis) all too willing to spread propaganda that benefits his cause.

Where the movie shines is in the way it uses the political angle to emphasize the different worlds its characters come from. Both Charlotte and Fred are very dedicated to their beliefs, albeit in different ways. As a public figure, she has to be calm and measured. He, on the other hand, can more fiercely go after entities or policies that he finds problematic. A shared desire to make a positive impact on the world is part of what brings them together. Because that's portrayed so credibly, it's easy to accept that these two people are drawn to each other.

Theron and Rogen have unexpectedly good chemistry. There's a sense of ease between them onscreen, especially in the way they trade one-liners. Liking one's co-star is not necessarily essential – Richard Gere and Debra Winger famously hated one another, and look how good An Officer and a Gentleman turned out – although it helps. Long Shot's two leads must have gotten along well, because the vibe between them feels authentic.

The film mines a lot of big laughs from the way Charlotte and Fred's worlds clash, then sometimes mesh. One of the funniest scenes finds her agreeing to go out for a night of drug-fueled fun, only to have a major crisis arise in the midst of her high. Screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah have come up with many witty lines of dialogue that capture the eccentricities and the vulnerabilities of the central couple. An ace supporting cast, including June Diane Raphael as Charlotte's most-trusted staffer and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Fred's best friend, add valuable comic flavor.

Energetically directed by Jonathan Levine, Long Shot is a genuinely romantic movie. We like these two people, become invested in their dilemma, and root for them to be together. Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen give winning performances in a story with something to say about unashamedly loving who you love.

out of four

Long Shot is rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.