Wrongcom: why is Hollywood smitten with the Woody Allen Type?

Long Shot stretches the romcom concept of “opposites attract” to breaking point. In one corner we have Charlize Theron: smart, beautiful, powerful, cultivated. In the other, Seth Rogen, in a teal cagoule. She is US secretary of state; he is an unemployed journalist. What can he possibly bring to the party? They meet at a glitzy Manhattan fundraiser, to which Rogen rocks up in his cagoule, then falls down a flight of stairs. But still she employs him as her speechwriter and romance inexplicably kindles. He doesn’t even change out of the cagoule until halfway through the film, when one of Theron’s aides asks if he has any “grownup clothes”.

This glaring mismatch is the whole point of Long Shot, of course. It is supposedly an up-to-date gender reversal of that tired old fairytale whereby female beauty meets male wealth and they happily affirm the patriarchy ever after. Long Shot knowingly references 1990’s Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere’s (equally questionable) take on the old Cinderella/Pygmalion formula but, despite being very funny, it doesn’t really stack up as a mirror image.

Traditionally, these stories involve an ugly duckling-into-swan transformation on the part of the woman. The Fairy Godmother gives Cinderella a magical makeover; Gere’s credit card gives Roberts the same; Sandy in Grease bags Danny by squeezing into spray-on black leggings and taking up smoking. You know the drill. In Long Shot, however, it is still the woman who needs to remake herself. Theron’s pollsters tell her she is perceived as lacking of a sense of humour, so in steps Rogen to change that, pepping up her speeches with pop-culture references and introducing her to MDMA. Meanwhile, Rogen’s character barely changes at all, apart from losing the teal cagoule.

It is a tale at least as old as cinema: that schlubby-looking, badly groomed, broke-ass males can still win over women who are way out of their league, usually by merely possessing a sense of humour. And it is often comedies that have done the telling. Woody Allen pushed this idea for about half a century, writing himself a succession of beautiful love interests, and keeping it up long after it started to look gross. Or think of Mike Myers’s succession of lovers in the Austin Powers film (Elizabeth Hurley, Heather Graham, Beyoncé – yeah, right). Think of every male character in Seinfeld – even George. Or remember Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, where he essentially played the same scuzzy stoner he does in Long Shot, and beautiful, high-powered Katherine Heigl decided she wanted some of that after all. Long Shot is at least upfront about being a mismatch, but it is still very much a fairytale … for guys.

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