Remember in “Say Anything” when high school valedictorian who had done everything right and won every prize Diane Cort was described as a brain “trapped in the body of a game show hostess?” Well, imagine her character grown up and in Washington.
Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is Secretary of State for a dimwit TV-star-turned President (Bob Odenkirk). She is still head of the class, doing extra credit homework while she’s on the treadmill, taking brief eyes-open standing power naps, and reading summaries of popular television shows so she can make smooth, diplomatic chit chat about media she has no time to actually watch. Needless to say, she is single. And, because she is played by Theron, she looks like a supermodel, very much appreciated by the American public which, her pollster tells her, gives her their highest ranking for “elegance.” This is the American public that elected an actor who played the President on television to the actual White House, so elegance — and a possible romance with the swooningly handsome Prime Minister of Canada (Alexander Skarsgård) are real plusses with the voters, who probably think that if they get married the two countries will merge, as though they are Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming.
But the fairy tale here is more like Beauty and the Beast, if it was an extremely raunchy romantic comedy. Charlotte used to babysit for Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), who is now a shlubby but passionate Brooklyn journalist who has just quit on principle because his lefty alternative paper has been bought by media mogul and all-around bully Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, so unrecognizable that he might as well be CGI). Charlotte sees Fred at a reception (featuring Boyz II Men, for whom they both stan). She impulsively offers him a job polishing her speeches to make them less Cabinet-officer-formal and careful and more “I’d actually like to run for President and I’m both super-competent and relatable!”
And so the out of work but highly principled Fred joins the team. Charlotte feels safe with him because they literally come from the same place, and he is able to remind her of a time when she was not as careful and not as isolated. He makes her speeches warmer and more personal. And they…like each other.
It’s funny and occasionally even sharp, but most of all it is really quite sweet. Theron is captivating as the good girl who longs to be a little less elegant and there is actually some genuine chemistry with Rogen, whose shambling demeanor she sees as refreshingly authentic. The film touches more lightly on subjects like political compromises and media pressure that we might think from an early scene of the idiot President watching himself on television in the good old days, when he only had to pretend to be the Chief Executive. The supporting cast includes O’Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”) as Fred’s loyal best friend, and their scenes together are some of the movie’s best.
There is enough sharp interplay on both current affairs and relationships to keep things moving briskly. Improbable as the pairing may be as characters and performers, Theron and Rogen have a nice easy rhythm, and it is heartwarming to see Charlotte and Fred each learn to relax a bit, her being less careful, more vulnerable, and more true to her less-than-perfect self and him being less sure of his opinions and more sure of his value.
Parents should know that this movie has very explicit and gross-out sexual humor, references and situations, very strong language, drinking and drunkenness, and some slapstick and military-style peril and violence.
Family discussion: Could a candidate like Charlotte get elected? What does she like about Fred? Would you want to read a journalist like Fred?
If you like this, try: “50/50,” also with Rogen, from the same director
Originally published at https://moviemom.com.