Hit Me With Your Best Shot

What if TV’s Madam Secretary’s Elizabeth McCord hadn’t married a hot shot fighter pilot cum religious scholar but instead hooked up with a flabby ink-stained wretch?

That is essentially the premise of Long Shot, a rom-com featuring the ageless Charlize Theron as Charlotte Field, the secretary of state to a vacuous President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). Chambers, a former actor who once played a president on television until he became a real one, is thinking about not running for a second term. Instead, he wants to pursue a career in movies. In the meantime, he’s open to endorsing Charlotte’s run for the presidency.

While on assignment, Fred Flarsky, a Jewish reporter played by Seth Rogen, finds out his newspaper has been purchased by a scheming media mogul. Maintaining his self-respect, he quits. Days later, he runs into his old neighbor and babysitter at an event featuring “Boyz 2 Men.” That former neighbor and babysitter just happens to also be the secretary of the state. The two become the ideal star-crossed lovers: the boy is a scruffy idealistic journo, the girl is an exquisite shiksa with drive and ambition—and who understands how the game of politics is played.

Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, this genial but slightly raunchy comedy is a perfect cute-couple date movie for Chasten and Pete. It’s not in the league of a Preston Sturges screwball comedy, nor does it have the bite of an Armando Iannucci satire. It’s yet another Seth Rogen film.

Needing a writer to punch up her speeches for a trip abroad, Charlotte hires the out-of-work Fred to augment her team, led by the always exasperated Maggie Milkin (June Diane Raphael), her chief of staff. Charlotte and her staff are embarking on a major expedition that serves two purposes: announcing a green-oriented initiative and setting the stage for Charlotte to leave the administration as a presidential candidate.

Fred can use the work—and he doesn’t mind being around a woman he’s been crushing on for years. But he’s wondering whether her initiative is just an empty political gesture that sounds good on the trail but won’t be implemented once she’s in office. When Charlotte realizes Fred’s reluctance to sign on, she uses the same idealism and charm that won him over years ago.

On the trip, Fred interviews Charlotte for background information that he can use for her speeches. Of course, this allows the two to learn more about each other since their days as neighbors. This back-and-forth is what drives the story. Like most rom-coms, it’s not about whether the two will get together, but how they will get together. Will they make it as a couple? Will one of them have to compromise themselves? What threatens to drive them apart? Long Shot is a film about the unobtainable becoming obtainable.

Fred has a certain ick factor. He’s fat and not conventionally attractive. As the two start to become an item, Charlotte doesn’t poll well in association with him. (See some of the coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s relationship with her boyfriend.)

While the environment is an issue important to Charlotte’s heart, her place on the political spectrum is opaque. Like in Veep, there is no mention of any party or any wing or faction. It’s an anti-septic politics. One can simply assume that Flarsky is a woke dude because he has a black friend telling him to pursue the “most powerful woman” in the world.

In Long Shot, there aren’t even rivals in the same party causing mischief to the up-and-coming female pol. There’s no AOC-like rival spitting out tweets. There’s only Wembley media, a conservative broadcast network that serves as a stand-in for Fox News. Long Shot seems to buy into the Trumpian notion that the media is a monolithic entity whose only job is to provoke its ideologically aligned audience.

The chemistry between Theron and Rogen is believable—especially if you buy into the theory that opposites attract. Of course, it would look better aesthetically if Charlotte was hooking up with a Fred Flarsky played by Chris Hemsworth. Charlotte considers herself is a “dick shriveler,” as she puts it—a powerful woman that men lacking power don’t want to date. She has to settle for those with a touch of desperation, like Rogen.

What does this film say about women in politics today? You know that complaint about equally qualified female Democratic 2020 candidates getting less recognition than their white male counterparts. It ain’t addressed here. Long Shot is more of an immature but endearing attempt to humanize women in power. It’s not much of a take on contemporary politics. We have enough of that already, right? It’s merely a fun movie. And the country needs some fun every now and then.

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Norman Kelley

Norman Kelley is an author, journalist, and filmmaker living in Washington, D.C.