LONG SHOT (2019, Jonathan Levine)
They’re not necessarily “intangibles,” but the elements that make this a great deal better than your average studio rom-com might be overlooked. First of all, there’s the visual style Levine brings — one that he keeps building on from each feature to the next: there’s thought to lighting and camera placement that isn’t exactly Edgar Wright-level directing but meaningful nonetheless. Kinetic camera movement when the story calls for it, depth to a lot of the frames, and an appealing color palette. One touch I love in particular is the first time Rogen walks up to Theron — his eyeglasses reflect the string of gaudy lights at the fancy party they’re at, and become more prominent the closer he gets to the object of his affection. There are literally stars in his eyes when he looks at her.
Also, the rhythms of this deserve some love. Comedy obviously depends a lot on timing, and probably the reason I was laughing so hard so often here is rhythm. Note editor Evan Henke’s previous credits (OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY, THE INTERVIEW, EASTBOUND & DOWN) and they all crackle with jokes that land precisely due to timing. One I’m thinking of here is after a serious of hilarious juxtapositions of powerful female politicians with ugly schlubs (Princess Di and Guy Fieri, Kate Middleton and Danny DeVito, J-Law and a potato in a teal windbreaker, etc.), Levine and Henke let just enough running time lapse before they throw in one more corker (Angela Merkel and Adam Duritz!) — complete with the red X — that goes off screen as quick as it came on and leaves you gasping for breath. I could list dozens more jokes that work like that, but you need to see for yourself if you haven’t already.
One element that definitely won’t get overlooked, however, is Theron’s performance. Proving once again that there’s nothing she can’t do, pivoting sharply from FURY ROAD to ATOMIC BLONDE to TULLY to this, Theron melds physical comedy with weighty emotion to generate a three-dimensional heroine that doesn’t rely on anyone else to succeed. Just watch the way she grips the handlebars outside the situation room when she’s stumbling on molly to handle a crisis. What Theron knows better than most actors is that when your character is high, your motivation is to look sober. She knows when to overplay and when to underplay, and every aspect of this performance is a joy to watch.
When the movie falters, it’s because the pizza dough can’t quite match the sauce and toppings. Levine tries too hard to appeal to all the quadrants, forcing Jackson (giving a characteristically strong supporting comedic performance) to be a Republican and stump for “hearing out both sides.” It veers way too far into fantasy land — giving us an America where a woman with scandals like these could be successful (we wish, we wish). I like how the script was retrofitted to encapsulate Trump times (Andy Serkis as a disgusting offspring of Steve Bannon and Ailes/Murdoch; Bob Odenkirk as a hilariously image-obsessed “acting president,” etc.) but as real as the romance may be, the vision of politics here is more absurd than real life and that’s hard to do. At least with THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner’s fantasy was old-fashioned and wishful thinking, but it got the bones right and took policy seriously. This takes the relationship seriously and treats the subject matter as a riff. Still, my face was so wet from laughter tears that maybe I’m spending too much time on the drawbacks. This movie is a riot.