'Long Shot' tries to make the political funny - and only somewhat works
Written by Noah Keate
The two leads of Long Shot, Seth Rogen (plays Fred Flarsky) and Charlize Theron (plays Charlotte Field) seen here promoting the film in 2019
Political films stretch back as far as time. Given the intense, intrinsic nature that politics plays within all societies, whether democratic or not, an investigation of politics through film and cinema is inevitable. These can entail both serious films, like Steven Spielberg’s The Post (2017), which investigated the role between journalism and politics, and more comedic films, like the satirical Primary Colors (1998) starring John Travolta. Comedy in politics or any other medium requires brilliant timing, with the potential to both work so well and fall apart, depending on the circumstances.
Long Shot, a 2019 political comedy film, is I’m afraid one of those that falls into the latter category. It is proudly current affairs and based in the present. Starring Seth Rogen as Fred Flarsky, it follows his adventures as an unemployed journalist in New York City. Well known for writing provocative comment pieces, Flarsky is forced to resign after his company is taken over by a right-wing media mogul. One of many things political films can attempt to do is somewhat mirror the present day. Long Shot, like plenty of other films similar to it, certainly manages just that.
The theme of status is intrinsic both in politics and this film. Following Flarsky’s sacking/forced resignation, he is taken by his friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr) to a party where US Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) happens to be in attendance. Aware of one another from their past - she babysat for him with some awkward encounters - Flarksky eventually ends up writing speeches for her. The distinction in the respect they are given, partially over how they dress and their appearance, is striking and demonstrates the influence of one’s demeanour and persona in going far within politics.
Naturally, Long Shot aims to reflect the political ambitions all those who enter the arena are likely to experience. Bob Odenkirk stars as President Chambers, a former television actor (any similarities to the present there?) who discretely announces to Charlotte Field that he won’t be running for re-election. Naturally, Field decides to run a campaign to succeed, hiring Fred Flarsky precisely to make her more human. With a focus on environmental development and sustainability globally, a prescient topic given the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, there is an interest fusion of idealism facing reality. This is relevant not least with the number of countries required to make any change work.
Being a comedy film fundamentally, Long Shot does not delve into this area as much as it could. Those of us engaged in politics for a long time can remember the Paris Climate Conference of 2015, where numerous compromises were needed for countries to agree on a broad consensus. Long Shot approaches this at the surface level, recognising the different parties and political interests that are likely to shape what policy action is achieved. While Field is used to political compromise, Flarsky is more critical of this approach which makes him resent writing speeches for her.
Broadly, the film only sightly works. The political themes are somewhat developed, but never properly go in the depth I would like. Going in, I should have known this. I had chosen to watch a comedy film and was therefore aware the laughs would be prioritised over any politics. Except, I very rarely found the jokes funny. Quite often, the comedy was immensely crude, crass and grating. A film can, perhaps, get away with this on one or two occasions. When it’s being repeated time and again, my patience very quickly wears thin.
Similarly, Long Shot felt wholly artificial and made up in its location, setting and characters (despite decent performances). Even though, of course, all fictional films are not based in reality, the best ones try to erase that distinct of contrivance. I did not get that here. Throughout Field’s continual explorations abroad, to promote her image as Secretary of State before running for the Presidency, there were various montage shots of different nations that just didn’t connect with me. It made the film, rather than be an opportunity for pleasure, simply feel like a box-ticking exercise.
That is not to say the film lacks any merit whatsoever. There are empowering messages about all individuals having the ability to run for office and be involved in political decisions. Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis) as the media mogul from hell, receives his comeuppance and demonstrates that media figures can only hold so much influence on the direction of policy. The inevitable romance between Flarsky and Field is largely predictable, even if it goes through its up and downs.
Overall, the film is inconclusive and lacks the appeal it could otherwise enjoy. I’m aware that many audience goers found the film amusing and liked the way it linked politics to humour. The jokes unfortunately just didn’t make me laugh and politics was not deep or interesting enough to compensate for this. While humour, like all film criticism is subjective, Long Shot, is, at best, a half baked attempt to try and demonstrate how the political can be highly amusing. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t manage to live up to its goal.
Picture source - Flickr (Daniel Benavides)