Charlotte Field wants to be president.
Currently serving as secretary of state, Field has negotiated with terrorists, created a bang-up environmental policy, and has even been endorsed by the current president. But is she likable, her campaign team wants to know. And if she’s not likable, how can she possibly get electable?
Long Shot tackles likability and gender bias in this charming rom-com/political satire mashup. The film follows Field (Charlize Theron), who reconnects with her old babysitting charge, a now grown-up (ish), freshly unemployed journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). She impulsively hires Flarsky as a speechwriter and sparks fly between the unlikely duo when they share close quarters on the campaign trail.
However, their romance is met with staunch disapproval by Field’s trusted advisers. Put blatantly by her campaign manager Maggie (June Diane Raphael), Field needs to get her likability numbers up if she wants to be a serious presidential contender. And if she tethers herself to someone like Flarsky, the system will be that much more rigged against her.
When I originally went to see Long Shot, I thought it would be a run-of-the-mill Seth Rogen-led white male fantasy: schlubby guy lands gal who is both physically and intellectually way out of his league (see: Knocked Up).
And, in some ways, it is. After all, Field is a brilliant, poised, hyper-focused secretary of state who has sacrificed everything to get to where she is. Flarsky impulsively quit his job writing embittered internet diatribes and only sometimes shaves his neckbeard.
Where Long Shot succeeds, though, is their use of the mismatched relationship to highlight the stark gender judgment imbalance that exists between the two (and, you know, in society). Flarsky can wear the loudest neon windbreakers he wants, he can neglect to comb his hair for the entirety of this film, and yet he remains a respected journalist working for the secretary of state.
Field, meanwhile, is so fixated on how she is perceived by the public that she’s too terrified to even eat food in an unflattering manner. In one scene, she literally ducks behind her assistants to briefly eat chicken on a skewer to avoid the chance of being seen. Eating improperly, it seems, is yet another item on a seemingly infinite list of reasons why the public may not like her.
For Field, likability is currency. Without her likability and her looks, she stands no chance of attaining the presidency, as she is reminded repeatedly throughout the film. (Her actual policies, she’s told, don’t matter.)
This likability double standard is certainly nothing new; it’s reminiscent of past elections, and it will remain a point of contention in 2020. Seeing it play out in the dynamic between Field and Farsky was enjoyable, but a too-real-for-movie-night reminder of just how uneven the playing field continues to be.
Ultimately, seeing Field finally reject the societal pressure to equate likability with success was the most refreshing part of the film. Unlike so many rom-com female leads of the not-so-distant past (see again: Knocked Up), Field refuses to dilute her ambition for the sake of love. Rather, she simply chooses to seek the presidency on her own terms, with her own choice of a romantic partner, rather than continuing to appease the court of public opinion.
Field becomes first female president based on who she is and what she believes rather than who she presents herself to be. As the 2020 election looms, I can only hope that this isn’t such a long shot.