2/10 February 2017, Hollywood- Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg share their 14th bowl of the day on the friend-of-a-friend’s couch they’ve been crashing at for a period of time they still refer to as a handful of months, but has stretched past the year mark. Decades of marijuana-induced creativity had already crippled them. At this point, Goldberg needed at least three ounces to come up with a decent password, and even then, it was mostly just “asdf” with different letters capitalized. The easily distractible duo’s thinking had been further bogged down by the 2016 presidential election, which, to its credit, had perfectly captured the kind of absurdism they’d only ever blown smoke at.
As the grass dwindles with the subtle signs of their near-impenetrable tolerance holding staunch, that fresh dank smell fading so much more rapidly than it used to, the munchies now saked by only a couple bites of Pop-Tart, the high that now takes so long to hit that during every session each of them at some point for some moments thinks, “this is it, it’ll never come, I’ll never be high again,” Rogen suddenly has the idea that had eluded them all this time, the golden dream that will carry them off of the friend-of-a-friend’s couch and back into an at-least one-bedroom apartment for at least a few months or so. He turns to Goldberg, breathless.
“What if Hillary, but hawt?”
In Long Shot, an idealistic far-left Jewish journalist named
Leopold Knopp Fred Flarsky (Rogen, who also produces and controls most of the creative team) quits his job when his paper is bought out by a right wing media mogul named Rupert Murdoch Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, television personality-turned oafish president named Donald Trump President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) decides he won’t seek re-election in 2020, instead refocusing on his acting career. He encourages his young, sexy secretary of state, Hillary Clinton Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), to run in his stead and become the first woman president.
After a chance encounter, Field hires Flarsky to punch up her campaign speeches. Then they bang.
Long Shot is completely unironic self-insert fan fiction. It is an untethered professional, political and sexual power fantasy that wallows in its own slime for 125 minutes and has absolutely no interest in being anything better.
Long Shot sets up a compelling conflict between Flarsky and Field. Flarsky quits his job in the movie’s opening moments as a matter of principle, but Field is constantly compromising on her vague “bees, trees and seas” environmental initiative. There’s genuine ideological tension here between them and internally within Field, who is both balancing the politics surrounding her signature policy and weighing those politics against the part of herself that Flarsky admires.
There is no tension in its execution or resolution, because Long Shot isn’t about narrative tension. It’s about Seth Rogen being right and getting laid.
Every plot element of Long Shot is designed as wish fulfillment, up to and including actual pornographic elements. From a narrative perspective, Field is the character whose growth and change defines the story, but Flarsky is the perspective character and the one who pushes her to the changes she needs to go through.
This is called a flat arc, where instead of growing himself, the main character changes others around him. This can be done well, but it’s also common as a lazy wish fulfillment trope – essentially the desire to cast yourself as both mentor and hero. In your own mind, you’re still the main character, but you’re helping others on their journey instead of being helped yourself, because why do you need help when you have all the answers?
In Flarsky’s case, the hero he’s helping is also his politician/girlfriend. She sees his iron principle and becomes less compromising. She feels his joyous zest for life and becomes more outgoing. She tastes his Good Dick and begins ducking out of her responsibilities to have sex with him more often.
If my hatred of Long Shot is personal, it’s because while this is structurally self-insert fan fiction, Rogen hasn’t inserted himself, he’s inserted me, a hammed-up version of myself and my colleagues. Flarsky’s resolve isn’t remotely exceptional in the company of actual journalists and would be quite harmful to the inherently collaborative process of making a newspaper. His zest for life is really just access to drugs, which is also obviously unexceptional. His Good Dick, well, maybe he’s a real dynamo, who knows, but all of Long Shot’s sex scenes are meant to coddle common male insecurities and evoke the most basic porn.
I’ve seen odes to mediocre white men before, but it’s a significantly worse experience when the mediocre white man being serenaded for his greatness is basically someone else’s idea of me.
The worst part is how unimportant Field is in what narratively should be her own movie. Long Shot is constantly dodging any opportunity to develop her character, using deliberately vague language about her political goals and breaking into a montage when Flarsky gets to know her instead of actually having a scene where Flarsky gets to know her. Even the flashback about them meeting as teenagers is focused on Flarsky’s adolescent penis, and specifically on Field thinking it was all right.
Intuitively, I completely understand why Field acts out the way she does – it’s obvious that she’s never had the chance to be a kid like this, but the movie never actually establishes what she’s doing or why outside of the most deliberately vague terms, because it’s so much more interested in Flarsky’s power fantasy.
The movie shows its hand most clearly in a sex scene a bit past the midway point, in which Field ditches a campaign event for sex. She tells Flarsky to spank and choke her, which is spun into a joke about Flarsky being shocked by these extremely mild kinks.
Long Shot steers well wide of any details about Field’s motivations or goals, but it includes this. The only thing about Field the movie spends time on, because it’s the only thing it cares about, is how she looks and what she’s like in bed.
For anyone who isn’t immediately turned off by what this movie represents and just wants a laugh, too bad – this movie is not funny. Like any comedian/auteur, the Seth Rogen brand of humor has its fans and its detractors, but any individual film is going to hinge on how well the humor is welded into the story, and in Long Shot, that weld is amateurish. Most jokes are gracelessly tacked onto the end of scenes, bizarre American Pie-esque grossout gags crammed into the middle of otherwise basic romantic-comedy ennui.
Movie comedy is not plug-and-play. You can’t just puff up cum-based sight gags and have it turn out funny. You need to build full scenes for those gags to make sense in. You need to mine humor out of the plot itself, and not just jam your jokes in at arbitrary points. For a recent corrective example, see Death of Stalin, in which every line and almost every shot is its own joke.
This also represents a waste of what is, again, a decent premise. There aren’t any jokes mined from the movie’s unique situation or from the strong ideological conflict between the lead characters – as with Field’s character, Long Shot goes out of its way to avoid the elements that could have made it an overall distinctive story. For another recent corrective example, see Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War, in which the political backdrop is a hugely important part of the love story.
Long Shot’s existence disgusts me. The idea that this grotesque, horrifyingly selfish fantasy, that this is the dream thousands of people came together to bring to life and express to others en masse, is appalling. The fact that I am part of a culture that was meant to sympathize with the ideas presented in this film is a black mark, a stench that I can only hope will eventually wash away.
Do not support this movie financially. Do not see it unless with the most cynical and discriminatory eyes. Do not bring it up in conversation. Resign it to a small and quickly forgotten memory.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.