Screaming and Laughing on the Campaign Trail ‘19
We all know comedy is a very subjective matter. One person’s fits of laughter are another questioning of the very reality around them, a complete disassociation with Mankind and wondering if Neo Matrix didn’t just have the option of a red or blue pill, but indeed jumped open-mouthed into a rainbow pill pool, the adult equivalent of the colourful containers hyperactive kids wade about in. That would explain how the BBC’s ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ was voted best sitcom of the 21st century by a Radio Times poll in 2016. Maybe there’s an NHS pill on the pensioner rounds that ‘enhances’ that viewing experience, clearly much more potent than MDMA that makes that show sparkle, and the retired vote.
Far more on my warped spectrum is the revelation that is ‘Long Shot’ (2019) directed by Jonathan Levine. I’d first known of Jonathan back in 2008 when he wrote/directed a quirky little comedy stoner gem of a movie set in 1994 and called ‘The Wackness’ starring Ben Kinglsey. It was a beautiful discovery of a movie, it seemed to come out of nowhere, with zero publicity and an absolutely outstanding soundtrack that I still listen to today. It was full of heart, love, comedy, reality and despite hints of darkness, was a sincere gentle celebration of life.
Levine went on to direct another gem of an off kilter comedy in ‘50/50’ (2011) staring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. Again another mix of the multiple sides that life throws at us, it managed to create a beautiful, extremely funny and grounded comedy about someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. It might not seem like the perfect topic for comedy, but surely the very act of comedy is collectively laughing at our own mortality, so gallows humour till I die.
There were a few other movies (Seth was back for ‘The Night Before’ 2015), and now his latest ‘Long Shot’, again starring Rogan alongside Charlize Theron. It’s written by Dan Sterling (who wrote the renowned HBO comedy series ‘Girls’) and Liz Hannah who co-wrote Spielberg’s ‘The Post’ about one of the biggest political scandals in history.
One might think how, or indeed what on earth could such a collaboration birth into the world, and for myself, from the opening seconds to the closing moments, it was over two hours of non-stop laughing out loud, intelligent, clever, gross, beautiful, sincere, human and morally fantastic comedy. Though I have to admit, when I saw the promotional posters with quotes such as the likes of ‘Undeniably funny’, I wondered if they had seen the same movie, or if I had mistakenly taken any ‘enhancements’ prior to the screening, it was WAY past funny.
Fred Flarsky (Rogan) is a proud and morally just, driven journalist whose mission in life is to take on the injustice in life, particularly in the destructive nature of capitalism. Pure of heart, with intelligence to back it up, but a wonderfully flawed human being at the same time (particularly in the wardrobe department). He doesn’t suffer fools at all, but in that killer focus, may not have developed so much in other emotional aspects of his life.
Charlotte Field (Theron) is US Secretary Of State, strolling the corridors of power, hopefully, to be running them soon as she begins her campaign to become President. Oh, and in another life, she was Fred’s babysitter, who he had a MASSIVE (& visible) crush on at the time. Whatever torch he had for her then, is now an inferno as she has blossomed into an almost princess radiancy in Castle Governance.
As is the daily diary of the morally just, Fred seems to be getting kicked by all sides. If it’s not Neo-Nazis (in a hysterical opening set up, that truly sets the comedy tone), it’s a corporate takeover by a horrific media mogul Parker Wembley (played by a mind-blowing Andy Serkis) that completely conflicts with his inner compass, but integrity is EVERYTHING, so he storms out into destitution on Moral High Ground Mountain. And in a current world where such purity seems like something from the history books, it is an inspiring sight, to say the least.
Hooking up with his longtime buddy (and very successful) Agent M (Tristan D. Lalla on superb form) for some pep talk and distraction, they head off to a penthouse party that actually has the legends Boyz II Men doing the entertainment. Also rocking up to this seriously monied gathering is Field, much to the instant embarrassment of Fred as memories of his crush come rushing back.
It all seems absolutely ridiculous, as much of life actually is, overflowing with awkwardness, stumbling on words, bumping into racing confusing emotions, and it is all truly hilarious, the grounding in sincere moments only attaching it to our own similar bumblings in life.
This chance encounter inspires a desire in Field to use Fred as her speechwriter to inspire her campaign (as she similarly inspired a young Fred), much to the ire of her actual campaign manager Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael) who is far more concerned about optics and focus group scoring to manipulate votes (there is a fantastic debrief sequence that introduces a negative scoring handwave that Field does), in the quest for position and power, at any cost.
So begins an adventure and journey that wonderfully shows how much seemingly two opposites actually have in common under the surface of tracksuits and business suits.
It may seem all run of the political mill, but it is anything but. Such is the truthfulness of the characters, their quest, their ideologies (which are 100% timely with the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grabbing global headlines), the phenomenal chemistry of the two leads, as well as fun on gag rate that hits home and all over your face at an orgasmic rate, there were very few moments I wasn’t laughing out loud, or massaging my face from smile ache.
Beautifully written, it is both fantastically intelligent (annihilating the world of our reverence to superficial presentation, rather than demanding integrity), and deeply human in recognition of our universal flaws. It also manages to be meta and timeless at the same time. It only adds to the quality of the entire project when the wider cast includes Alexander Skarsgård as the media slick Canadian Prime Minister (who incidentally has a high focus group score) and Bob Odenkirk as the residing President who is more interested in moving into the where the real power is, in TV/movies.
A wonderfully pure and focused rom-com that wears its heart and intelligence on its VERY funny sleeve, like a badge of honour that we proudly got at Brownies/Scouts. Absolutely it should be seen in the cinema with a big crowd, buy I can’t wait to have the Blu-ray to inspire the many laughs at home.
‘Long Shot’ is out in UK & Irish cinemas now.