The narrative that suggests that romantic movies in general, and romantic comedies specifically, are in decline is certainly an intriguing one to grasp onto. We are far removed from the heyday of rom-coms, and few have found the kind of cultural reverence of When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle. Never mind that The Big Sick, which made an impressive awards season run earning an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, is only two years old. No, the rom-com is certainly dead.
It makes for a better story to tell ourselves in the all important click-based economy of movie journalism, but it misses a larger point. If rom-coms are dead, it’s only because studios have failed to evolve the form. The Big Sick proved undoubtedly that the thirst for the genre is still alive; what screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon managed to do was find the medium’s relevance for a new generation. They, quite frankly, made rom-coms great again.
The subversion of expectations is part of what made that film such a hit with audiences and critics alike, and it’s what studios need to consider going forward. It’s certainly what writers Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) considered when writing Long Shot. And once again it has paid off.
While it’s difficult to imagine that Long Shot will have the kind of broad-based appeal that catapulted The Big Sick to award season glory, it is another salvo in what I hope will be a long series of salvos that prove that rumors of the death of the romantic comedy have been highly overstated. Long Shot harkens back to the glory days of the rom-com while being infinitely more relatable to the modern generation. It is impossibly adorable, undeniably hilarious, and oozes with feelgood charm.
It seems a natural evolution for Seth Rogen, who way back in 2007 helped redefine what rom-coms could be with Knocked Up. His everyman charm has always been his main draw, which is not dissimilar from the late-80s/early-90s era Billy Crystal or Tom Hanks. Sure, his characters tend to be more crass and schlubby than his forebears, but his earnestness is absolutely comparable with them as well. Crystal, Hanks, and Rogen all feel like they’d fit in pretty well at your party, which is a huge part of why they all work so well in the rom-com form.
Long Shot naturally takes cues from Rogen’s other works. Though he’s proved he’s capable actual greatness with roles in Steve Jobs and The Disaster Artist, he’s clearly at his most comfortable when he’s playing Seth Rogen Guy, that loveable schlub who never quite has his shit together and who love weed and partying. A kind of holdover from the party films of the 70s and 80s, Rogen always plays Seth Rogen Guy with an empathy that makes him pop on the screen.
In this case, Seth Rogen Guy is the down on his luck blogger Fred Flarsky, who recently quit his job on principle after his publication was bought out by the nefarious Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, as unrecognizable as ever). Converging with Flarsky is the story of Charlize Theron’s Charlotte Field, Secretary of State for the wildly popular but incredibly inept TV star turned leader of the free world, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). A childhood connection between them leads Field to hire him to help punch up her speeches as she prepares to announce her run for President. Unexpectedly, sparks fly.
Chemistry between Rogen and Theron is palpable. Watching them interact is like watching two friends at a party inexplicably hitting it off and forging the foundation of a relationship. It’s real. It’s exciting. It’s goddamn disgustingly cute. Theron is such an amazing actress that it’s easy to forget she’s also an exceptionally funny actress. As Field, she reminds us how wonderful and hilarious she can be and brings the nuance of Sterling and Hannah’s script out in full force.
At her heart, Field is an exploration of what it means to be a woman in power. While her president is an inept buffoon who spends his time reciting scripts from his hit TV show, she is forced to play by a different standard and hold herself with a different poise. She does not have the benefit of being uncareful. She cannot afford to be anything but poised. Which is why her connection with Flarsky is so troubling to her staff as she gears up to her announcement.
Flarsky wears 80s track suits to black tie events, brings weed into federal buildings, and has no qualms about speaking his truth to whatever power stands before him. He is the opposite of Field in every way, and their pairing naturally causes some due concern with those who would make her Madam President. It’s an interesting shift of power dynamics than what we usually see in romantic-comedies or romances of any kind. This shift allows us to explore the double standards of men and women and how power affects each differently.
The sheer unlikeliness of their romance makes for some brilliant comedic moments that never shy away from exploring power dynamics in and out of relationships and also makes for some wonderfully memorable rom-com fan-servicing. While the film is often crass, it never lessens the sweetness of the whole affair. This is a film that reminds us that the romantic comedy necessarily needs to have a lot of heart and one that remembers that the audience for the genre is vastly different than it used to be.
Like The Big Sick before it, it serves as a wonderful and enjoyable reminder that in no way is the romantic comedy a dead genre, they just need to be retooled for a new generation. Perhaps, with the blueprint now established, Hollywood and the cinematic punditry can begin to rethink the fate of the romantic comedy. As Rogen and Theron clearly show, there’s life in those veins yet.
Long Shot is now playing in theaters everywhere.