Are romantic comedies dead? If your answer is no, I’d love it if you could please name the last great one.
If “The Big Sick” counts, that might be it. “The Obvious Child”? “Silver Linings Playbook”? “Bridesmaids”? I’m not sure if any of those films is a romcom, and that, plus the fact that the most recent is two years old, suggests that we are not in a golden era.
All of which is a prelude to noting that “Long Shot” is for sure a romantic comedy, but I can’t decide whether it’s hopeful or depressing that it’s a decent, not great, one.
The main thing the movie does is reverse the usual romcom genders. It’s similar to “The American President” in that it’s about a high-level political figure in Washington, D.C., who unexpectedly falls for a quirky, more liberal person. But here the political figure is female: Charlize Theron as buttoned-up Secretary of State Charlotte Field. And the quirky love interest is Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky (Rogen’s usual lovably rumpled stoner), whom Field hires as a speechwriter for her planned presidential bid.
The two, who were friendly in middle school, reconnect at the exact moment when she needs someone to remind her of her youthful ideals and he needs someone to tell him it might be time to stop wearing pajama pants in public.
The first half is dandy. The setup works — he’s a fish out of water in high-stakes political circles, and she wishes she could escape that water occasionally. The jokes are sharp, including an excellent running gag about how rare it is for a TV star to transition to movie stardom, as well as a canny one about Field’s Type A habits (she sleeps standing up, like horses and, probably, Martha Stewart).
Both Theron and Rogen tackle variations of characters they’ve played numerous times, but director Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) builds the romance smartly, so we understand why these two are falling for each other, and their sleek/scruffy pairing is unexpected enough to make the film feel fresh while the romance is developing.
It’s when they try to make romance work that the movie falls apart — and, no, it doesn’t get a pass because that’s also when a lot of real-life romances fall apart. The complications feel forced and, even by the standard of movies that lean too hard on pop songs to smooth over storytelling bumps, the song choices are notably stupid. The script also doesn’t take time to develop its supporting characters, who include underutilized O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Rogen’s pal and June Diane Raphael, whose performance as Field’s snippy aide is less acting than Christine Baranski-ing.
There’s nothing glaringly awful or offensive about the movie. I like how it dovetails with the run-up to the 2020 election, in which many women are playing key roles, and that it hints at a future in which the people who lead our country won’t mostly be white guys in their 70s.
But, despite the gender flip, there’s something painfully retro about “Long Shot.” What, for instance, does it say about its female lead that she’s supersmart, stunningly beautiful (even first thing in the morning) and a deft user of power but, still, the best she can do romantically is a semi-formed man-child whose main contribution to their relationship is the ability to score drugs?