Peter Bart: ‘Long Shot’ Is Rom-Com With Hints Of Politics Past And Maybe The Future

Long Shot

In the new rom-com Long Shot, Charlize Theron is cast as a liberal politico and Seth Rogen as a frowsy journalist locked together in a chaotic, and comedic, run for the presidency. The film won’t ignite Marvel-like box office numbers, but it may strike a chord with Hollywood Democrats, who already look upon the 2020 election with a certain dread given the prospect of attending fundraisers for 23 prospective nominees.

In Long Shot, the portrayal of Theron’s candidacy would likely make Hollywood constituents comfortable. She’s also the sort of female power figure that critics yearn for (the New York Times gave her performance a rave). Though a forceful advocate of her cause, however, she’s also a politician whose positions waver in keeping with the polls. Indeed her fuzzy-minded, from-the-heart policy pronouncements remind me less of a Kamala Harris than of the young Ronald Reagan.

I took this personally, because I covered Reagan’s political rise for the New York Times at a moment when he, like Theron’s character, found himself drifting between right and left. In fact, just as Rogen played the grumpy journalist who tried to remind Theron of her liberal commitments, I would find myself reminding Reagan of his own early proclivities. The blacklist was especially confounding to the young Reagan, as it was to Hollywood. Even as president of SAG, he denounced “the Red menace” but was also sickened by the concept of “naming names” for Congress.

Just as Theron in Long Shot is badgered by a Rupert Murdoch character, the young Reagan feared the fiercely right-wing Hollywood press – even the slanted trade press, consisting of both Variety and the Hollywood Reporter (the Reporter’s owner, Billy Wilkerson, was thrilled to receive an award from Sen. Joe McCarthy, as his son, Willie, reminds us in an excellent new biography).

To be sure, the ultimate “heavy” in Long Shot, albeit unnamed, is Donald Trump, not Ronald Reagan. Indeed Reagan, were he around today, would likely be appalled by Trump’s obsession with his “base.” Even as he grew more conservative, Reagan still reached out for broad support, his actor’s instinct yearning for popular appeal. He would have been baffled by Trump’s seeming acceptance on his 35%-45% approval ratings, becoming the only president in the history of the Gallup polls never to win majority support for even one day of his term.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan at a public hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 AP/Shutterstock

As the long-term spokesman for General Electric, Reagan enjoyed pitching his wares to the expansive television public. To Trump, only one product is worth pitching — Donald Trump — and the only medium is Fox News.

So is Theron’s character in the movie destined to become Ronald Reagan? In the aptly titled Long Shot, the plot ultimately succumbs to the structural demands of the rom-com — a questionable choice since Hollywood has essentially given up on the genre. Theron’s eleventh-hour shifts reconnect her with both her ideology and her boyfriend, which seems as puzzling to Rogen as it does to the audience.

Still, as the NYT review points out, “while Long Shot isn’t going to save the romantic comedy, it’s an adrenaline shot of pure pleasure to the genre’s fading heart.” Long Shot’s tepid $10 million opening weekend reminds us that the “adrenaline shot” is sorely needed. Next month rom-com loyalists have been driven to stage the Rom Com Fest in Los Angeles featuring the revival of old favorites like Never Been Kissed, Bride Wars and the 1940 classic His Girl Friday starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. “These films help people connect,” says Miraya Berke, who presides over the festival.

Rom-com fans shouldn’t have to pin their their hopes on Theron and Rogen alone.

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