Cinema Dispatch: Long Shot

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Long Shot and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Jonathan Levine

I love Seth Rogen!  Have I mentioned that before?  Knocked Up, Neighbors 2, The Night Before, all are great movies that I’ve watched multiple times and showcase just how talented the guy is.  Now we’ve got a movie with him AND Charlize Theron, one of the hardest working actors working today with so many great movies under her belt!?  Well dang!  How had I not heard about this movie before!?  Seriously, considering how many times I go to the movies you’d think I’d have seen one trailer but no!  I hadn’t even heard of this until about a week ago and I had no idea what it was even about, but hey, when do you watch a comedy for the plot?  I’m here to see these two work off of each other and tell some funny jokes!  Does this team up manage to knock it out of the park like peanut butter and chocolate, or are we in for an experiment that’s gone more horribly awry than whatever the heck it is Oreo has been pumping out recently?  Let’s find out!!

Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is a journalist with a serious chip on his shoulder who’s had a rough time of it recently and Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the Secretary of State who’s had a rough time of it always.  Two people from two vastly different worlds who you wouldn’t think would ever meet, but in movie land these two have something of a history as Charlotte used to babysit Fred when they were younger and there was an embarrassing incident between the two of them.  Still, fate seems to conspire to bring them back together as Fred loses his job and is brought to an upper class party by his friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr) where Charlotte just so happens to also be.  They talk for a bit, Fred makes a fool of himself when trying to confront an evil media conglomerate (Andy Serkis) and you’d figure that life would just keep on going from there.  However, Charlotte starts to read some of Fred’s earlier work and comes up with a brilliant idea!  See, she plans on running for president as the current guy (Bob Odenkirk) won’t be running for a second term to instead make movies and so she needs a speech writer who can write funny and incisive commentary that she can pepper into her usual rhetoric, so going on quite a limb here she hires Fred for the job despite him being… well a boorish man child who can barely even dress himself.  Naturally her staff isn’t too thrilled included her top aids Maggie and Tom (June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel), but everyone goes along with it and Fred, if nothing else, seems to write decent speeches and the two begin to reconnect once more; possibly with more going on between them than either initially realized.  Can Fred be the necessary piece that Charlotte has been missing in her life, and is Fred even capable of being what she needs him to be?  What sinister actors out there will try to undermine Charlotte’s campaign, and how will Fred react to the realities of being part of the political machine on such a large stage?  Seriously, how did this jacket alone not destroy her political career?

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“I didn’t realize the Blue Meanie was getting into politics!”     “Say what you will about the Blue World Order, they at least have a sound economic platform!”

Man was this movie a wild ride.  I was enjoying it so much in the first act that I thought it was going to be one of my favorite movies of the year, but then it kept wavering and teetering in directions that I wasn’t liking, but I was SO sure that it was going to turn it all around… when it just crashed and burned in pretty spectacular fashion right at the end; more or less with a SINGLE scene that was so off-putting, tone oblivious, and frankly cowardly that I lost all hope and felt utterly foolish for thinking it would turn things around.  I mean it’s still got its fun parts and the two leads are great at what they do, but it never feels like it comes together and the disparity between its parts just hamper whatever message it was trying to get across, and that’s BEFORE it decides to utterly crash and burn for no discernable reason!  It feels like something got lost in translation along the way, or maybe they got a weird amount of pressure from the studio to temper their political viewpoints, but whatever the case is it led to a much worse and frankly insulting movie.

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“You know what your Presidential campaign needs?  Pot.”     “Oh, you mean national legalization and expunged records for non-violent drug offenders?”     “Sure, but I mean… right now.  Let’s get some pot.”

Before I start to tell you what’s wrong with this movie, I do want to point out that the first act is rather fantastic and gave me so much hope that I was going to see something great!  Seth Rogen as a barely held together journalist stuck dealing with the crushing instability of that industry was actually great to see and the opening scene with him recklessly trying to infiltrate a Neo-Nazi group was utterly hilarious.  On the other end of things, Charlize Theron is fantastic at portraying not just a woman in such a high position of power but also the crushing exhaustion that living that kind of life leaves a person in; no matter how strong and competent they are.  Even the initial scenes where they reconnect are fun and provide a perfect blend of awkward humor and even a bit of insight into how far apart people can get yet still have that connection.  I mean sure, not everyone who makes it big can hold onto their roots (and in many cases it’s a good thing that they don’t) but the two of them are a lot of fun to watch together and even with my problems later on that aspect of the movie remains consistently strong.  Oh, and I REALLY liked O’Shea Jackson Jr here who’s probably the most vibrant he’s been in a movie as he completely steals the scenes he’s in and gives Seth Rogen someone to bounce off of.  I don’t like where his character ended up, but we’ll get to that soon enough…

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“You see this guy?  Don’t be like this guy.  He’s unemployed and has terrible taste in hats.”     “How much am I getting paid for this?”     “Well if I was paying you then you wouldn’t be unemployed, right?”

After such a great first act to kick things off, I was settling in to enjoy this movie immensely and start mentally cataloging the reasons why this would end up being one of the bets of the year (Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron are THAT fun to watch in the first act), but then a few persistent issues started to come up that left me rather worried about where all this was really going and sadly the film never figured that out to my satisfaction.  I think it comes down to a flawed misunderstanding of its premise which aims for something subversive but never gets to the point where it’s not just another version of what it’s trying to say something about.  I got increasingly frustrated with Seth Rogen who was thrust into this situation almost on a lark and, at least to me, never ended up proving himself to not be worth the risk.  He never seems to ever become aware of just where he is, who he’s working for, and the risks that he puts everyone in every day for his behavior, and what little we see of his writing which is supposedly his greatest asset is… well it’s not freaking Pulitzer prize winning material which makes it hard to buy into the fiction that he’s WORTH keeping around for that reason alone.  We’re talking about a world where every last aspect of someone is scrutinized for perceived flaws and distractions, so what the heck is he DOING half the time and why is he doing it THAT close to Charlize Theron!?  The fact that he never wears a freaking suit just would not stop bugging me despite numerous opportunities to get one, and in general his attitude, demeanor, and lack of professionalism was utterly distressing to me when coupled with just how much Charlize Theron has to risk on every single decision she makes.  She can’t even sleep without it causing problems, and yet THIS guy gets to waltz around in his nineties windbreaker and take recreational drugs!?  And look, I get that that’s kind of the point of this movie, and that the heart wants what the heart wants in regards to Charlotte’s attraction to Fred.  In fact, it’s kind of brilliant because it’s more or less an inversion of the trope where a humble woman from a lower social class starts dating a very powerful man or even like a prince.  In fact we just saw it last year with Crazy Rich Asians which was a great movie and frankly is a good example to use as to why it doesn’t work here.  It turns out that switching perspectives from someone unfairly being persecuted for their upbringing to some douchebag who feels entitled to act like a slob around people (particularly a woman who can’t let down their guard for even a minute) isn’t that great of a tradeoff, and you don’t root for him to succeed because he’s not even trying to.  That’s the other main thing that infuriated me!  He makes token gestures towards trying to tell himself he’s worthy of love and that he needs to get over himself when he’s around her, but there’s almost no sense that he’s actually putting the work in for her!  I can’t believe that there wasn’t a makeover montage in this movie where he went to Maggie or Tom asking for advice on looking and behaving like a professional, but then why would he?  He’s a left leaning dude who’s got it all figured out, and the whole system is built on lies or whatever, so what’s the point in trying?  And it’s not like this guy can’t pull off a proper growing up arc!  Heck, one of my absolute favorite movies of all time is Knocked Up and his growth as a character in that movie is one of the main reasons why!  Just look at where that movie started to where it ended and then realize just how seamless that journey felt where Seth was an overgrown man child, tried to be there for Katherine Heigl, realized he couldn’t do what he needed to as the man he was at the time, and then went off to improve himself; not in some quick scheme to get her back but for HIMSELF and for his daughter who would need him to be an adult.  There’s no SACRIFICE from this guy in this movie, and so I never really felt the urge to root for him and his relationship which again feels like they’re TRYING to make a point about how society always gives straight cis dudes more slack than any other group out there (it’s basically the only reason ANYTHING in this movie ends up working out), but again it doesn’t feel subversive enough to not just be another piece of media perpetuating it.

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“I thought the best way to change the world and enact progressive policy was through hard work, strong grassroots support, and fighting for the restoration of voting rights, but it turns out that just complaining about the system and not doing anything about it is MUCH more effective!  Thank you for opening my eyes to the REAL issues!”     “All in a day’s work.”

Now I was giving this movie the benefit of the doubt for a very long time, but once we got to the third act and one scene in particular, I just lost all hope for this and it became painful to watch.  Yes, we are at the worst part of the movie; the proverbial turd in the punch bowl that spoils every ounce of goodwill I had built up for this and I’m about to spoil it, so if you care about that then turn away now.

We good?  Okay, so during the ALL IS LOST portion of the movie where Seth Rogen is no longer working for Charlize Theron and is well into his pity party, his best friend played by O’Shea Jackson Jr reveals to him that he’s not JUST a conservative but is, and I quote, “Down with the GOP” and that he never felt comfortable coming out about that as well as his Christianity because Seth Rogen would judge him for it, and I’m just sitting in the theater FUMING at the gall of these filmmakers to put something like this in the movie.  Never mind that it feels completely out of place and that O’Shea Jackson Jr BARELY even tries to sell it; there are PLENTY of problems with left leaning dudes (being one I should know) but somehow they missed out on something that’s ACTUALLY true to instead perpetuate the toxic idea that we should be nice not just to those further to the right than us but specifically those affiliated with a destructive, xenophobic, and fascists leaning political party.  Again, he said “I’m down with the GOP”, the party of Trump, child cages, Muslim bans, and bathroom bills.  This wouldn’t have been acceptable at ANY time, but it feels especially galling the same week that Georgia passed a bill that institutes CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (you know, what Ted Bundy got) for women who have a miscarriage during pregnancy.  It’s a myth that those on the GOP side of things want us to reach out to them in the middle, and this movie perpetuating that falsehood only highlights the disconnect between what it THINKS its politics are and how it comes across.  Frankly, that moment was pretty darn despicable to me, and I just shake my head thinking that never have I seen a right leaning movie ever insinuate that the left has anything of worth to say yet over and over again the left (almost always the white left) has to self-flagellate for daring to have opinions different from their parents and of ALL the times in the world to do that, it feels the most inappropriate right now.

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Send a few of those my way.  I’m pretty sure you owe me after having sat through this.

I’m genuinely disappointed by this movie and with Seth Rogen.  Sure, he didn’t write it like he does with a lot of his other films, but this still feels like something specifically in his wheelhouse only without the nuance and not nearly enough self-reflection.  MAYBE I’m just not in a place right now where I can appreciate this movie on its own terms and perhaps if we somehow get out of the worst freaking timeline imaginable that I can view this with fresh eyes and see the brilliance I saw in the first act reflected throughout the rest of the movie.  That day is not today however and for a movie that I was enjoying SO much, it just crashed and burned in spectacular fashion with an inconsistent premise, a muddled theme, and some VERY poor decisions to presumably placate an audience who probably aren’t bothering to see this movie in the first place.  GEE!  A supposedly left leaning enterprise that courts favor with the center and ends up getting no benefit from it while losing the confidence of its staunchest supporters?  CAN’T SAY I’VE SEEN THAT BEFORE!!

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