Only in the movies, right? Only there can a drop-dead gorgeous female like Charlize Theron fall for a schlummly, chubby, dressed-like-a-loser kinda guy like Seth Rogan. Am I right? But in this politically-charged rom-com, that’s what you get. Would this happen in real life? Oh, hell no! So sit back and enjoy this fantasy!
It’s 2019 and the POTUS (Bob Odenkirk) is a former TV star and a complete moron (hmmm…) who secretly wants to be a movie star, not the Prez anymore. That’s great news for his politically savvy Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Theron). Getting her 2020 Presidential team together, she finds out that she needs an ace writer to ‘punch up’ her speeches with comedy, something the polls show she’s lacking in the eyes of the people.
Enter NYC gonzo journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogan), who is not only an outspoken crusader for the masses, but also friends with a high-powered exec (O’Shea Jackson, jr) who gets him into a swanky party after Fred gets fired. Faster than you can say, “plot device”, Fred meets Charlotte (Charlotte used to babysit Fred!) and badda-bing, badda-boom, Fred gets a new job helping Charlotte with her campaign of helping the environment and healing the planet. But Fred is skeptical of his former sitter and, even though she IS sincere, Charlotte is forced to compromise her values by her acerbic manager, Maggie (June Diane Raphael), for the sake of appeasing the constituents.
When Fred objects and calls her out on abandoning her morals, she changes her mind and the speech is a success. Soon they get close and become “an item”, but Maggie warns them both that the public will never accept them as a couple. Seriously, would you? And right on cue is the second act break up that leads to the inevitable third act reconciliation, but this one is laced with a weird, wild hostage crisis, webcams, and masturbation. Wait, is this a Judd Apatow movie? No? Huh, ya fooled me. The ending is exactly as it should be; silly, ridiculous, and something that happens only in the movies. *sigh*
Dan Sterling (The Interview, South Park TV series) and Liz Hannah (The Post) have written the basics. A basic rom-com with basic situations, characters, and a basic plot that goes from A to B to C. The screenplay is simple, clean, and lightweight, but it’s slow-paced and dissolves into an odd third act that feels rushed and like it’s part of another movie entirely. Thank goodness you have the witty banter and sheer chemistry between Rogan and Theron that makes this movie watchable. You stick anybody else into those roles and this movie would have died a slow, painful death.
Then you have director Jonathan Levine, who has directed Rogan in 50/50 and The Night Before, and he did the outrageous comedy, Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates. It’s a wonder why the action and comedy didn’t jump higher and fly faster in this movie. If you’ve seen his other comedies, you’ll know his style of crazy, absurd, and wacky comedy that’s sadly lacking here. Sure, there are brief, fleeting moments here and there, but not enough to sustain this film throughout the 2hr running time. Although, I gotta admit, some of the best stuff seems to be where Theron and Rogan are just ad-libbing together. That part works like magic.
The American President (1995)
We only wish we had a President like Andrew Shepherd in office! In a movie made in cinematic Heaven, this rom-com could not get any better. With a script by his lord and master Aaron Sorkin, directed by lovable Rob Reiner, and a cast to die for, you can watch this movie over and over again and never get tired of it.
He’s widowed, popular with the voters, and a Democrat. Meet POTUS Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) who is preparing to run for re-election. His staff, led by his Chief of Staff & BFF, A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen), Deputy COS Leon Kodak (David Kodak), personal aide Jane Basdin (Samantha Mathis), and nervous POTUS asst & script-writer, Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox), all wanting him to pass a moderate crime control bill. However, support for the bill is iffy at best and a touchy subject. Especially around hired-gun Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), whose been chosen for her lobbying skills. SHE wants to persuade the President to pass legislation on a clean-air bill.
During their first meeting, Shepherd and Wade are immediately intrigued by each other and sparks fly. . .the good kind. Shepherd strikes a deal with her: if she can secure 24 votes for the environmental bill by his State of the Union address, he’ll deliver the last 10 votes. His thinking is that Wade won’t be able to get enough votes to meet her side of the deal. Meanwhile, he needs a date for the State Dinner and hey! She’s damn attractive and single, so why not ask her out? Wade, flabbergasted and a little smitten at his invitation, accepts and the news rumor mills go into overdrive.
Leading the rumors is that Republican bastard and presidential hopeful, Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dryfuss), who tells his everyone that “the President’s got a girlfriend”, and attacks Shepherd and Wade every chance he gets. The President refuses to respond to these attacks, even dating Sydney openly, which drives his approval ratings lower and costing him crucial political support. Worse yet, as they are falling in love with other, their political agendas are clashing as Sydney’s environmental bill is gaining speed in collecting votes, while the crime bill is going down in flames.
But being the POTUS means you gotta make the hard choices and Shepherd pulls the rug under Sydney to make his crime bill pass. Wade, crushed by this dick move, walks away from this sure thing but, at the State of the Union address Shepherd, in a stirring and beautiful monologue, reverses his decision on the gun control bill and throws his full support to the clean-air bill, thereby winning Sydney back and the country as well.
This is an excellent movie from start to finish and went on to inspire Sorkin’s outstanding TV series, The West Wing, with Martin Sheen as President Bartlet. In fact, many episodes of the series had plots that were ‘lifted’ from this movie. This movie has everything that a rom-com needs: romance, charm, humor, drama, action, characters you care about and can identify with, a believable story that isn’t syrupy-saccharin, and some BIG laughs thrown in for fun. Douglas & Bening are the Tracy & Hepburn of this film and light up the screen, while Sheen, Fox and the others are simply terrific and honest. Rent/stream it again for a great afternoon flick.