Beyond “Notting Hill”

Julia Roberts is up to something. I can tell. Her name keeps popping up in my newsfeeds. I am not suspicious, I don’t think it is anything outrageous. It did make me feel like watching the movie “Notting Hill” again and after I watched it I did a little research and realized that it has been 20 years since that film came out. The movie still holds up. Her character, Anna Scott, is still the a star that you would be gobsmacked to meet at a dinner party and Hugh Grant’s character, William Thacker, still seems like a charming bookseller with floppy hair. Their relationship goes through many swoops but you cheer at the end. That’s the thrill of a good romantic story, in book or movie form.

We’ve seen some good ones at our house lately because I never stop hoping that I am going to find another romantic story that will resonate like Anna & Will’s. I’m always on the hunt for the next story that will make me feel it is worth watching more than once, perhaps many times. Looking back at the DVDs I have recently checked out of the library I have been bewitched by the beauty of “Crazy Rich Asians”, found “The Big Sick” to be outrageously funny, and enjoyed many of the twists in “Isn’t It Romantic”. Three films made in the recent years that I really liked, would probably watch again, but they didn’t really make my heart sing.

I recently watched a movie that I think is just about good enough to be my new “Notting Hill”. It is… Seth Rogen’s “Long Shot”. Who knew? My family does not agree with my 9 out of 10 rating for this movie. I loved the movie, believed in their love story, and felt that it was like a flipped version of “The American President”. That’s right, I am comparing it with Aaron Sorkin’s 1999 gem of a film, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, one of the early influences of “The West Wing” (also known as the best television show ever made). It’s not exactly the same, of course, but in the way that an unlikely friendship slowly blossoms into love, both films contain a nugget of the same perfect romance. And, I’m telling you, Seth Rogen plays an alarmingly believable love interest to Charlize Theron. I would never have thought this could happen. Rogen hasn’t typically played love interests, he has played far more successful animated characters than romantic leads. For example, he was a very good Mantis in both “Kung Fu Panda” movies but there really wasn’t a lot of romance there.

With romantic stories you have to be ready to suspend disbelief. It’s important to be able to accept a circumstance you wouldn’t normally believe in traditional fiction so that the essential “meet cute” can happen. Like, in “Singin’ in the Rain” Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon find each other again after a few obstacles (and some great musical numbers) and their romance blooms. It’s something that couldn’t happen in real life but works with the right comic twist and a solid romantic arc. When it works, it works.

In “Long Shot” Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a talented journalist who recently lost his job, and Charlize Theron is the U.S. Secretary of State, Charlotte Fields, who has decided to make a run for President. The sweet twist is that they knew each other when they were younger – she was his babysitter – and reunite because she needs someone who really knows her to make her speeches more compelling. In between falling in love there is one epic fall down the stairs at a New York fundraiser, an outstanding prank played on Flarsky by Charlotte’s staffers, all of the best behind-the-scenes campaign scenes you could ever want, and one glamorous dance where he wears a tuxedo and she wears a red dress worthy of the Oscars. Their chemistry is magic, undeniable, and the writing is warm and so funny. It is definitely a production of Seth Rogen’s company, Point Grey, so the R rating is well-deserved but it also suits the setting of the story and the characters. The supporting cast is fantastic, it has a better-than-average soundtrack, and it was refreshing to see a powerful female character making decisions for herself – for her career, for her future, and for her love life.

I will always be a fan of the romantic comedy, it turns out that I like them that much more when it features a fabulous woman changing the world with someone outrageously funny and charming by her side.

— Penny M.