The essence of the romantic comedy in many ways has been lost to the deluge of blockbuster comic book films and spectacle. Or the comedy tends to be too high concept or borderline gag related without reverting to the simple set up of traditional boy meets girl, boy loses girl…they realize their mistake and find that common ground for a would-be happy ending. The ironic aspect is that one of the people that does have the pulse on the heart of this aspect is Seth Rogen, mostly known for his stoner comedies. There is an every man quality to Rogen but like “Zach & Miri Make A Porno”, “Neighbors” or “Knocked Up”, it is always a trajectory of the underdog. Despite previous co-stars there was always a sense of perhaps pity in a way or a drum tap to play the joke which he gladly takes which is what makes him such a redeemable lead. “Long Shot” works in many structures because he is not the lead here…Charlize Theron is….
This balances it completely since Charlize knows the role she is playing but still brings her intensity to it without being schmaltzy. One actually feels in many points that she is falling for Rogen’s Fred. The set up and the token Rogen set up that slams him to the floor just so he can crawl his way back to her heart is worn, yet tried and true…and feels natural here. The story feels fairly organic in as much as the situation can be which is part of its charm. What however really feels tender and not forced is the small moments between them, either on a couch watching a movie or hanging out after they almost get bombed…and then in the sequence where they actually do get bombed (a necessary Rogen movie trademark). What comes out of that latter sequences is some of Charlize’s loosest spontaneous performances in years…especially one where she defuses a situation hiding behind a desk.
Letting her hair down so to speak seems incredibly freeing since one can still see the icy brilliance of Theron but, by doing this vulnerable comedy, there shows as usual such a wide range in what she can do. The last time there was that vulnerability in such a large way was “Sweet November” but that film was a inherent tragedy. The best dramatic actors can do comedy brilliantly if given the chance and the right script. Most aren’t seen that way or offered. Theron and Rogen are both producers on the film so it seemed a very conscious choice on both their parts to make this film. Theron tried “Gringo” last year in more of a supporting part for what was inherently a dark subversive comedy. The reason “Long Shot” works in many ways but also has some great laugh-out-loud moments is that it is honest and truthful in what it is and makes no qualms about it. It is undeniably romantic in many ways while still being brutally human which sometimes is the hardest thing to pull off. Of course, these movies are bound to have a little melodrama (as this one does at certain points but it is offset by Rogen’s deprecating lines). But that brief schmaltz is just the price of admittance…and that’s OK.
By Tim Wassberg