Bearded, unkempt Fred is introduced as a fearless-liberal investigative reporter for an, ahem, alternative weekly. Through a series of coincidences in ascending order of unlikelihood, he loses his newspaper job but gets hired immediately by the Secretary of State of the U.S., Charlotte. Seems they were neighbors as kids, she babysat him, and he had a massive crush on her, but they haven’t touched base for 30 years.
Now, after they lock eyes across a room, she impulsively hires him to help fashion the talking points for her upcoming presidential campaign, another long-shot coincidence. The coincidences start to pile up, but Fred and Charlotte’s lightning-bolt romance is so disarming – we could even call it charming – that we hope it never comes back down to reality.
Of course Fred and Charlotte are spectacularly mismatched for the era of social media and gossip-as-politics. He’s an altruistic man-child who still believes in fighting for the little guy against mega-corporations and haters. That, and he dresses like a 15-year-old. She, on the other hand, is the quintessence of driven – overworked, stressed out, and polished to a high sheen by her handlers (June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel, in fine form), with her eyes firmly fixed on the prize. That is, until Fred appears out of nowhere.
Long Shot is a collaboration of comedy-centric director Jonathan Levine (Snatched) and writers Dan Sterling (The Office) and Liz Hannah (The Post), who presumably know their movie history well enough to position Fred and Charlotte as an update of the classic Frank Capra couple. (The only question is: Is Fred the James Stewart or the Jean Arthur?) Most politically themed movies made for urban audiences feel the need to show exactly how rotten and corrupt the truth of the matter really is – just to demonstrate how clued-in the filmmakers are. Long Shot does not go that route.
Instead of rubbing our noses in the current political quagmire, the Levine-Sterling-Hannah-Theron-Rogen team (both actors get producer credits) employs the gambit of letting Charlotte and Rogen do the right thing from the beginning. No prolonged side trips into the world of the Murdoch-like media king Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, looking like Sean Penn’s evil goblin twin) or the goofball POTUS (Bob Odenkirk, channeling W. Bush), just an eyes-wide-open, what-the-hell leap into totally honest power-wielding for its own sake. How refreshing. If Capra had been born in 1980 and raised on Boyz II Men, Bruce Springsteen, and recreational drugs, this is the movie he would probably make.
Long Shot is a gift to its audience. Theron, a frequent player of violently willful females (Monster, Snow White and the Huntsman, Mad Max: Fury Road), has the job of portraying a woman willing to throw away a potential slam-dunk trip to the White House in favor of hanging onto her childhood soul mate – and makes us believe it. Her counterpart essentially plays the usual Rogen character, here drawing the world into his orbit. Male fantasy? Perhaps. Politics makes strange bedfellows, but this story’s mission is to tell the secrets of the heart. Only 550 days until Election Day.