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‘Long Shot’ and Our Beautiful Woman/Ordinary Dude Fixation

Plus some other random thoughts about the Charlize Theron/Seth Rogen comedy

Fellas, you know how it is. Sure, you’re not the best-looking guy, and well, you’re a bit of a slob and a screw-up, too. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings. See, there’s something special about you that can’t be measured by material possessions or superficial barometers of success. And once the beautiful woman in your life realizes that, you can finally live the life you’ve always deserved.

The above is either the inner monologue of a lunatic or the thought process of too many male protagonists in sitcoms and Hollywood comedies. We’re used to the trend: A Kevin James lands a Leah Remini on The King of Queens, or a Homer is married to a Marge on The Simpsons. A few years ago, Vulture dubbed it “TV’s Attractiveness Gap,” but it’s just as common at the multiplex, where comics like Woody Allen, Albert Brooks and Mike Myers have successfully wooed gorgeous women who are way out of their league.

You can add to that list Seth Rogen, who with Knocked Up capitalized on what Vulture described as “the ‘ugly guy’ getting the ‘hot woman’” narrative trope. Of course, in all these cases, attractiveness is relative — it’s not like Rogen, Brooks or Myers are ghastly male specimens. But the idea is always the same: The story’s underlying joke is that it’s hilarious that these guys are far less good looking than their female costars. That a going-nowhere stoner like Knocked Up’s Ben could impregnate a beautiful, ambitious woman such as Katherine Heigl’s Alison was amusingly preposterous. (That guy?!? With that gal?!?) But Knocked Up went beyond its simple premise to reveal a sweeter side to Ben, who eventually learns to grow up and proves to Alison that he’s more than the schlub he once appeared to be. He may not look like much, but he’s got depth underneath that unremarkable surface.

Twelve years later, Rogen returns to that same well for Long Shot, another movie based on the fact that there’s no way in hell his character would be able to woo the female lead. He’s Fred, an all-guns-blazing investigative journalist who dresses like a kid, acts inappropriately and does plenty of drugs. Naturally, with his anti-establishment demeanor and horrible fashion sense, he’d be most uncomfortable in the world of high-powered politics, which is where he finds himself after running into Charlotte (Charlize Theron), his childhood crush who’s now Secretary of State. The movie amplifies how mismatched they are. She’s polished and regal, brilliant and erudite, charming and poised, and she looks like Charlize Theron. He’s the opposite of all those things, and he looks like Seth Rogen. In real life, she’d give him the quick brushoff. But this is a movie, where magical things can happen. Also, ludicrous ones.

Long Shot encapsulates a perfect loser-guy scenario, establishing early on that, not only did Fred fall hard for Charlotte as a boy, he suffered the sort of humiliating adolescent nightmare than can scar a kid. Charlotte was his babysitter, utterly unaware of his crush, and he was so swept away by their assumed connection that he impulsively kissed her, sporting a massive erection that she definitely noticed. Though not quite as physically painful, the moment recalls another ordinary-dude/hot-woman romantic comedy, There’s Something About Mary, which also opens with a boyhood sexual embarrassment that’s a shorthand for how pathetic the male character is. It’s not bad enough that Fred has pined for this beautiful woman for decades — his blatant, unwelcome attraction was obvious to her at a delicate moment in his formative years.

I think most guys can relate to Fred. On some level, we all feel we’re not good-looking enough, especially in comparison to the object of our affection. And if they reject our advances, we assume it’s because there’s something wrong with us — not just physically, but on some elemental, molecular level. Suffer enough rejections and you start to develop an unhealthy mindset: We tell ourselves that if a beautiful woman loves us, it’s proof that maybe we’re not as wretched as we think we are. We see it in movies and on TV: The okay-looking ordinary dude is able to land a hot woman, and so we think it’s possible. And so we put that person on a pedestal and make them an arbiter of whether or not we’re worthy as a human being. The beautiful woman isn’t really even a person — she’s just there to make us feel better about ourselves.

That’s an extreme reading, but it’s not far off from how Long Shot envisions Charlotte. Although the movie outlines all the ways that she has it tougher simply because she’s a woman — she has to worry about her looks at all times, and she has to avoid being too emotional lest she not be taken seriously — Charlotte is essentially perfect, an idealistic politician who’s trying to do good in the world. Plus, she swears, loves old-school New Jack Swing and has a sharp sense of humor — she’s one of the guys with supermodel looks. And as much as 50/50 director Jonathan Levine treats her sympathetically, the glossy portrayal is, in its own way, as unflattering in its simplemindedness as if they’ve made her other insulting female character types, like the Hot Bimbo or the Shrewish Nag. As far as Long Shot is concerned, she’s an angel who doesn’t really need to change — all she has to do is come around to seeing Fred as a worthy mate.

It’s not that Fred’s a bad guy. As played by Rogen, he’s a coarser version of the aging slacker-bros he’s portrayed in recent films like Neighbors, but there’s a core decency to the character. Long Shot is mostly told from her perspective, taking as a given that he’s a mess who needs improving. Whatever mild failings Charlotte has — she briefly loses sight of her ideals in the name of political expediency — the film’s organizing principle is that he has to win her over, not the other way ‘round.

That’s often at the core of these ordinary-guy/hot-gal comedies: The man is constantly trying to prove himself to the beautiful, flawless woman. It’s meant to be a compliment to the female audience that these guys are such flailing losers, while the women are goddesses. But consider how patronizing that attitude is, which positions the man as a lovable work-in-progress and leaves the woman to be the uncomplicated support system. Apparently, Charlotte doesn’t have any problems or hang-ups — that’s Fred’s department — and so she just needs to sign off on his eventual maturation. Nobody’s there to take care of her.

In my life, I’ve dated women who I thought were out of my league. It never ended well, mostly because I allowed my insecurity to get in the way. But also, it didn’t work because, since I thought they were out of my league, I created an imbalanced relationship — one in which I had to prove myself to them and seek out their approval. This is not smart, as I learned — and it’s not fair to either person. In Long Shot, things turn out okay for Fred — what’s a romantic comedy without a happy ending? — but he never really takes her off that pedestal. And neither does the movie. It’s one thing to adore the woman in your life — it’s another to understand that they have needs and flaws and insecurities, too, and that they sometimes want you not to rely on them for your self-worth. Just because you’re less beautiful than she is doesn’t mean that it’s her job to make you feel pretty.

Here are three other takeaways from Long Shot.

#1. Is there a way to come down from Molly fast?

One of the film’s big comedic set pieces involves Charlotte, after a night of partying in order to blow off steam, suddenly discovering that she’s needed to negotiate a tense international hostage crisis. One problem, though: She just took some Molly, and it isn’t expected to wear off for another four hours. So, she has no choice but to fake her way through the negotiations while trying to appear sober.

I’m going to defer to Seth Rogen’s expertise in this regard, but I did wonder: Let’s say, worse-case scenario, you had to come down immediately. Could you?

According to MEL’s own Brian VanHooker, no. A couple years ago, he wrote about “How to Sober Up From Everything,” detailing the tricks for coming down from cocaine, magic mushrooms, even a sugar high. But as for sobering up from MDMA, heroin or meth, VanHooker could only soberly report, “You can’t. Sorry, pal.”

Well, that’s disappointing. Undeterred, I started looking around online. The results weren’t encouraging. But in 2018, Vicky Prest, who identified herself as a “[f]ormer avid drug user,” offered some guidelines for coming down from Molly. Some of her suggestions: “Being cold”; “staying away from music or visual stimulation”; “sitting in a normal bright room with no noise”; and “being on my own.” Apparently, if you’re an Eskimo, you’re set.

However, Prest has a warning for anyone who stumbles upon her Quora page: “I should mention that just because you feel like you’ve come down, does not mean that you are sober so DO NOT attempt to drive or go to family gatherings. The latter I can vouch for personally.”

This sounds like the setup for a movie that Seth Rogen would definitely want to make.

#2. Is Jennifer Aniston a movie star?

Long Shot engages in a bizarre running joke in which characters randomly discuss how hard it is for TV stars to transition to becoming film stars. The only two examples anybody can think of are George Clooney and Woody Harrelson. When Jennifer Aniston is mentioned, Fred shoots it down snidely: “Just because you star in movies doesn’t make you a movie star.”

It’s a surprisingly harsh burn for a movie that tends to make jokes at the expense of easy targets. And I confess that I thought, “Huh, I wonder if Aniston knows about this.”

Turns out, she hasn’t — but the question is whether she’s pissed about it. Gossip Cop recently referenced a Life & Style item that said, from an inside source, “Jen has a great sense of humor, but she draws the line at being made fun of.” But the gossip site reached out to Aniston’s spokesperson, who refuted the Life & Style item, letting it be known that the Friends actress “hasn’t seen the movie” and “doesn’t know what joke they are referring to.”

Well, now that that’s settled, we can get to the real question: Is Jennifer Aniston a movie star? I’m inclined to say that, strictly speaking, she is not. She has definitely been in films, but she never quite managed to be someone who could open a movie. She did good work in indies like The Good Girl and Friends With Money, but those films never exactly moved the needle in terms of her career. Friends remains the thing she’s most known for.

Could that change? Aniston fans ought to pin their hopes on First Ladies, which should be coming out later this year. The Netflix feature, which might get a theatrical release, stars Aniston alongside stand-up comic Tig Notaro: Aniston plays the president, and Notaro is her wife. It’s a funny idea that Notaro wrote with her own wife, Stephanie Allynne, and Notaro has been talking about it on the chat-show circuit:

In the meantime, Aniston is still making movies. Kinda: She has a Netflix movie with Adam Sandler out this summer.

#3. Here’s a brief guide to Roxette.

Fred and Charlotte bond over their shared love of “It Must Have Been Love,” the big hit ballad from Pretty Woman. “Ah, yes, Roxette,” I thought to myself. “That’s a band I haven’t thought about in forever.”

We slot certain artists as one-hit wonders, but there needs to be a name for acts who had several massive singles in quick succession during a brief period of time and were then never heard from again. They fill a niche for a moment, and then they’re gone. Roxette is a band like that: The Swedish duo had six songs that hit No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard charts in the span of about two years. That’s a remarkable run. And then… nothing.

Consisting of Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle, Roxette specialized in go-for-the-throat pop music that had a rock edge to it. Their songs had huge hooks, big emotions and zero depth — but they were easy enough to sing along, too, so who cared? Starting with 1989’s “The Look,” which went to No. 1 and may have set the record for the amount of “na na na nas” in one song, they went on a tear, alternating between get-out-your-lighter arena ballads like “Listen to Your Heart” (another No. 1) and up-tempo, feel-good numbers such as “Joyride” (another No. 1, which featured Gessle ecstatically proclaiming “Rox-ette!” at one point). Roxette were the very definition of disposable radio fodder, perfect for the gym or driving around in the car or sitting in your bedroom while getting weepy about someone who broke your heart. It surprised no one that they gave Pretty Woman its huge emotional moment. (By the way, “It Must Have Been Love” also went to No. 1.)

For the record, Roxette never broke up. They’ve continued making albums, including 2016’s Good Karma, but at least in the U.S., they never again captured the zeitgeist. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how anybody younger than Fred and Charlotte who didn’t grow up with Roxette would feel about such perfectly polished, utterly generic pop. Sure, the charts are still filled with perfectly polished, utterly generic pop, but it sounds different than the kind that made Roxette famous. When Long Shot’s tentative lovers slow-dance to “It Must Have Been Love,” it’s a romantic moment, but it’s also an acknowledgement of their fondness for an old cheesy song from an old cheesy movie. They’re dancing with their own nostalgia for a time when people knew who Roxette was.