Seth Rogen is a born comedian. According to an interview he did with The Toronto Star, he never wanted to pursue any other career. “As soon as I realised you could be funny as a job – that was the job I wanted.” A natural stand-up and comedy writer, he became his family’s breadwinner age 16 as an actor in Judd Apatow’s cult television show Freaks and Geeks.
A breakthrough came when he was hired as a staff writer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s last season of Da Ali G Show in 2004. Along with the show’s other writers, Rogen received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. The year after, he was cast as one of the main character’s co-workers in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Rogen also co-produced the film and improvised all his dialogue.
His career took another leap with the lead role in yet another Apatow production, Knocked Up (2007). A romantic comedy about a drunken one-night stand between his ‘slacker’ character and Katherine Heigl’s just-promoted media personality, the ‘odd couple’ premise foreshadows Rogen’s latest movie Long Shot in which his slobby average guy character Fred Flarsky is paired with class act Secretary of State Charlotte Field, played by Charlize Theron.
Though Fred has a stoner tendency to deal with disappointment by getting off his face, he is at heart driven by a political moral code. The opening scenes – very funny and pacey – see him infiltrate a white fascist group at high personal risk. It makes a nice comment about extreme racist bigotry in a certain sub group of white males. In the meantime, Charlotte is embroiled in her own particular stereotyping of women. In order to make the grade, she has to be supermodel beautiful and a workaholic who is forced to pander to a clown of a president. When it looks like she may have the chance to run for the presidency herself she is confronted by the need for a more humanised public image. When Fred quits his job because the paper he works on gets taken over by a corrupt media baron, he’s in the right place at the right time to take up the job of writing her speeches.
Political satire is scattered throughout the film with broad characterisations of a goofy Trudeau-like Canadian Prime minister, references to Trump and Hilary Clinton, comments on racist and misogynist behaviour, especially in the brief but hilarious scenes with TV anchor men and their blatant sexist comments.
This is another side of Rogen that informs his work. Born Canadian of Jewish parents, who he has described as ‘radical socialists’, he’s a public campaigner for legalising marijuana and the founder of Hilarity for Charity, an organisation that raises funds for Alzheimer’s research. Much of his work in film is marked by taboo-breaking, whether frat boys in Bad Neighbours or The Interview (2014) starring Rogen and James Franco as journalists who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea threatened a “merciless” retaliation on the United States if it did not ban The Interview, labeling the movie “an act of war” and Rogen a “gangster filmmaker”. The Sony computer hack followed shortly after.
Theron has also put her name to causes, notably gay marriage, and more actively, The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, created by the actress in 2007. She was named a UN Messenger of Peace because of her efforts to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In her film career, Theron played leading lady in 1990s Hollywood films like The Devil’s Advocate, Mighty Joe Young and The Cider House Rules. Her unforgettable turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003) won her the Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first South African to win an Oscar in a major acting category. She received another Academy Award nomination for playing a sexually abused woman seeking justice in the drama North Country (2005). She also received praise for playing troubled women in Jason Reitman’s comedy-dramas Young Adult (2011) and Tully (2018), receiving Golden Globe Award nominations for both films.
It is this substance and intelligence that both actors bring to the movie that gives Long Shot its depth and dimension. The film sprawls messily with a scattergun of social and political satire, but the two characters somehow hold it together. The crucial pivot for the romantic comedy theme is the mismatched couple’s believability. What on earth would a 10 score woman like Charlotte see in an anorak-wearing average guy? The script is clever in giving us a backstory where the couple knew each other as kids, with Fred having always been in awe, and lust, of slightly older neighbour and babysitter Charlotte.
The set up for Charlotte as an adult sees her walking a tightrope in an isolated, inhuman kind of existence in her bid to follow her calling as a politician. We can understand Fred is a comforting familiarity she can trust. Rogen has an easy, accessible presence on screen that makes him believable as a man you would warm to.
And they can both act! Rogen has shown his ability to take on roles beyond comedy, like his critically acclaimed performance as Steve Wozniak in the Danny Boyle-directed Steve Jobs biopic (2015), Meanwhile, Theron has a veracity that cuts through the stereotype of goddess A class woman, and her comic acting is a revelation here, especially in an extended scene where she negotiates a hostage crisis while being high on (psychotropic drug) mali. There are inevitable frat boy running themes about getting drunk and stoned, and the romance is bookended by two heavy handed (no pun intended) episodes that focus on Fred’s erections.
The movie was originally titled ‘Flarsky’, revealing it is at heart more from Fred’s point of view than Charlotte’s. There’s a reference in the trailer to Long Shot being like Pretty Woman in reverse (Fred gets a LOL makeover in one scene and tuxes up in another) but no one can pretend the formula would ever be ‘plain slobby woman pairs with A class god male’.
Theron, who has modelled endorsements for Dior and Raymond Weil, is immaculately stick-thin throughout. The movie certainly comments on what women have to be in order to succeed but it gets to present the satire while never subverting that aspect of social misogyny. It’s the female character who has to grow the most while Flarsky easily falls into achieving his dreams.
A shout out should go to an excellent supporting cast. June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel play Charlotte’s aides with a wonderful sense of farce, and Fred’s bestie is played by O’Shea Jackson Jr who carries off a positive affirming/ Republican /Christian grab bag of a character with terrific energy. Alexander Skarsgård as the ‘Trudeau’ parody who ‘should’ be Charlotte’s perfect match, is creepily scene stealing.
Long Shot is directed by Jonathan Levine who worked with Rogen on 50/50 (2011) and The Night Before (2015). The director is quoted as saying, “I like a pretty relaxed, fun set. Everyone knows they can bring whoever they want and hang out.” The script is co-written by Dan Sterling (Girls) and Liz Hannah, who have fashioned an entertaining rom com for our political times. Let’s hope we can look back in a few years and laugh at the parodies of the men in power. Rogen, who also produces the film with Theron, says he wanted to take it back to comedy basics. “What if we made the kind of movie I grew up watching that is actually romantic and actually funny?” Go see for yourselves if he managed to pull it off.
Long Shot is in cinemas May 2, 2019