(The Reel Dad welcomes back Garrett Schumann, otherwise known as one of the reel sons, who contributed to this column for several years. Garrett holds a doctorate of music composition from the University of Michigan.)
I saw “Long Shot” over the weekend with my wife’s family, in celebration of her birthday. The first movie I ever saw with all of them was 2014’s “Neighbors,” which also stars Seth Rogen in a raunchy sex comedy replete with grotesque body humor, innumerable weed jokes, and — suffice it to say — more scenes that were embarrassing to watch next to my in-laws than I was ready for. As we entered the theater to see “Long Shot,” I was ready to cringe again — not just because I expected dirty jokes, but also because “Neighbors” did not bring much story to the table beyond this ribald sense of humor.
Imagine my surprise when I left “Long Shot” having laughed out loud and feeling drawn in by the story, which hews closely to its genre’s tropes, but does so with confidence and charm. At the heart of “Long Shot’s” success is its exceptional cast, beginning with the bizarre pairing of Rogen and Charlize Theron, who both deliver winning performances and persuasively portray strong chemistry together. We get a slightly more tender, and slightly less gross, version of the character Rogen has played in so many films leading up to “Long Shot.” Many in the audience — unless they are fans of the TV show “Arrested Development” — may be surprised by Theron’s fantastic comedic acting and gift for goofiness.
Indeed, the plot’s main motivation is that Theron’s Charlotte Field, the secretary of state, is neither funny nor personable enough to win a presidential election, which necessitates her hiring Rogen’s Frank Flarsky, a journalist, to bring his acerbic and sarcastic wit to Field’s campaign speeches. They endure a contemporary take on the rom-com’s typical obstacle course, displaying a persuasive on-screen affection throughout the film (Rogen and Theron really seem to get along well, as demonstrated by their recent appearance on the “How Did This Get Made?” podcast).
“Long Shot’s” supporting cast is also deep with established and emerging stars from the indie comedy world. June Diane Raphael, best known for her role on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” plays Field’s overbearing personal aide, and Bob Odenkirk (“Mr. Show,” “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul”) portrays an incompetent, disinterested president who used his celebrity to win the White House — a plot point that is clearly drawn from reality.
One of the most interesting aspects of “Long Shot’s” story for me was its heavy doses of Gen-X/millennial nostalgia. Field and Flarsky — who, we learn early on, have known each other since they were children — bond over early 1990s hip-hop and R&B music, a point punctuated by a cameo from the group Boyz-2-Men. And, other important parts of their story center on their teenaged experiences and idealism.
In a film market saturated by remakes and biopics reanimating cultural objects from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, it struck me as ominous to realize nostalgia can feel just as good for a 30-/40-something as it does for a baby boomer — ominous because Hollywood is assuredly banking on that fact.
Streaming Pick: “Steve Jobs”
Seth Rogen shines in a small but essential role as Steve Wozniak in this captivating look at three chapters in the Apple founder’s career. Rogen reminds us that, while primarily known as a funny man, he can deliver a heartfelt dramatic performance, too.
“Long Shot” is rated R for “sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.” The film runs 2 hours and 5 minutes.
‘La La Land’ makes us sing
By Mark Schumann
Just as Garrett found hidden charms in Long Shot, I find many charms in the romantic comedy with music, “La La Land.”
No matter what you may feel or fear, this original musical will inspire you to embrace a brighter tomorrow. Just as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers helped a nation survive the Great Depression in the 1930s, an evening with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone may be the ticket to restore your belief in the joys to experience today. “La La Land” is more than a movie. It’s a reason to wake up in the morning.
Now, for people who love musicals, “La La Land” is not your standard order tuner. While most song and dance movies showcase big numbers in big adaptations of big Broadway hits, this is a small movie with big dreams. It’s softer, quieter, slower, with songs and dances that naturally emerge from the story and the characters. And this makes “La La Land” a delight for people who savor creativity at the movies. The movie doesn’t simply play. It floats.
Director Damien Chazelle, who deservedly won an Oscar for his work, launches this musical journey with an opening sequence that captivates, excites and makes us want more. Who could imagine a crowded Los Angeles freeway as the backdrop for the most thrilling opening number since Julie Andrews discovered the hills were alive? From the moment the first honk initiates the fun, Chazelle’s opener reveals everything we need to know. We meet Emma Stone’s captivating actress, Ryan Gosling’s brooding musician, and the city of lights that frames their dreams. And we can’t wait for what happens next.
For the next two hours, Chazelle delights with every possible musical moment a movie could welcome. Gosling and Stone, reaching for their inner Fred and Ginger, express attraction, love and disappointment. Like Mickey and Judy, they search for professional success in a world that can be unkind, use song to articulate their hopes and values, and discover dancing to reveal their desires. As we find ourselves dazzled by how they handle those musical chores — and, yes, they can sing and dance — we are captivated by the emotional depth of their work, especially in a musical. Gosling makes his brooding musician into a captivating dreamer while Stone simply dazzles as she reveals what a star she will be.
As with the best musicals, “La La Land” creates its own world. Every moment is carefully planned without waste. As screenwriter, Chazelle lets the story fill enough space to explain the context and characters without permitting it to overwhelm the entertainment. As director, he uses every part of the movie language to create a film that honors its past by creating something new to add to the evolution of the movie musical. And he makes it all look effortless.
As special as La La Land may be for everyone, musical movie buffs will have a field day spotting the moments that celebrate such past musicals as “Swing Time,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face” and “The Bandwagon.” By reminding us how much we love musicals, and showing us what a musical can be, Damien Chazelle honors legacy as he inaugurates a bright musical future.
“La La Land” is rated PG-13 for “some language.” The film runs 2 hours and 8 minutes.