Growing up in a fairly conservative and religious focused family, my first R-rated film (in the theater, mind you-I was blessed to already have had my fair share of home release viewings in the basements of friend's houses or in secret, thanks to my Blockbuster employment connection) was the Rogen and Heigl raunch-fest-with-a-heart Knocked Up.
Knocked Up, if you recall, stars Rogen, an overweight, expired frat boy who has no interest in growing up, and Katherine Heigl, a model-esque, large-and-in-charge-with-no-time-for-a-social-life television producer, as the parents-to-be of a surprise pregnancy after an incredibly drunken one night stand. Critics raved about Rogen and Hiegel's performances, solidifying Rogen as bonafied movie star and launching Heigl's career.
Fast forward ten years and some change later, and once again I found myself in a theater, anticipating yet another Rogan vehicle where the plot seemed somewhat recycled: a beautiful blonde (this time played by the always excellent and committed Charlize Theron) and an average Joe (a slightly more mature, Rogen, complete with his trademarked genuineness) somehow get involved romantically, in a tale mixed with a generous helping of penis jokes, heavy drug use, and the exuberant use of the F-word sprinkled around like confetti.
I went in thinking it would be mediocre.
A few hours (and lots of laughter) later, I'm happy to report this one pleasantly surprised me.
Theron plays Charlotte Field, the current Secretary of State making the strategic moves necessary to announce her bid for the 2020 presidency. Rogen portrays vulgar-yet-honest alternative journalist Fred Flarsky. Field faces an up hill battle in the presidential race for literally being a woman (something audiences know a thing or two about since the 2016 election), and her team wants her to come off relatable and likeable. Fred, recently laid off due to a large media corporation buy out of his independent online newspaper, thanks to the devious workings of an old, privileged white male tycoon (the never-recognizable but never mistakable Andy Serkis), needs a job.
When a chance meeting at an elite party has the pair cross paths, it only takes a few a minutes for the two to connect and make the realization that they went to high school together. Fred had a crush on Charlotte, who had big, beautiful ideas about making the school a better place when she ran for student body president. Charlotte remembers him as the smart, sweet kid who lived next door.
Days later, after scrolling through his past articles, Charlotte goes against the cautioned judgment of her campaign team and hires Fred as her speech writer, and immediately the two, along with the rest of her team, embark on a round-the-world tour, touting Charlotte's "Save the Bees, Trees, and Seas" initiative, a flowery sounding vision that's to be the anchor of her campaign (and something adult Charlotte still believes in).
From there on, it's easy to see where this story is headed. Charlotte and Fred grow closer, as he interviews her to get a better handle on her voice for the speeches he crafts. They butt heads, they disagree. He calls her out for compromising on her beliefs when a country negotiates changes to the initiative, she tells him he is out of line and to remember that at the end of the day, she is his boss and that sometimes you have to play the game to win the game.
To anyone questioning if Theron and Rogen have chemistry, the answer is a solid yes. It looks like it shouldn't work, both due to their differing acting resumes and their physical attributes. But Theron and Rogen take their unique blend of class and crass, humor and heart, and it honest to God works.
Sparks fly, feelings happen, and before you know it, this film treads into familiar territory, a gender-reversed Pretty Woman that happens to involve politics (complete with the beloved pop standards one would expect from the aforementioned film and typical rom com fare).
But then the movie goes deeper than that, and while it appears to be a lighthearted popcorn flick with an edge, there's a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) messages bubbling below and on the surface. The unfair treatment of women by the media, the shallow game politics has become, the necessity of standing by one's beliefs while recognizing when we need to set differences aside to actually accomplish things, and an encouragement to men to support the women in their lives, even if she is more successful than them. Especially when she is more successful than her them.
It was these thoughts that had me pondered as I drove home, "could movies like this be the answer? Could unassuming, middle grade romantic comedies be the catalyst for starting conversations in the real world?" Too often, certain audiences are turned off by movies that come off as more lecture than entertainment. But what if a movie, disguised as a comedy, provides honest political commentary in an easy to digest manner that helps audiences reach across the aisle with their perspectives? Could a movie featuring a solid boner joke, a viral video with an unfortunate masturbation mishap, and a highly respected political figure high on molly negotiating a hostage situation like a straight up boss be the one that finally stops people in their tracks, makes them scratch their heads, and state "I never thought about it that way before?"
Honestly, probably not.
But given the choice between yet another film with a blatant message that feels like a lecture that won't be heard by the audience necessary, or Long Shot, which tackles political differences in an entertaining and delightful manner, I'd go with the latter.
By a long shot.