Y’all, I’m tired. Seth Rogen’s latest comedy, Long Shot, costarring Charlize Theron hits theaters today, and I can’t help but roll my eyes because this film’s premise is constructed on a relationship dynamic that keeps popping up in romantic comedies time and time again. You see, Long Shot perpetuates the idea that the schlubby guy can get the incredibly accomplished woman. It’s a trope that movies never seem to question or subvert (what if he doesn‘t get the girl this time?) and it’s deeply unfair to the female character because movies seem intent on showing us that women should settle. To this, I say no freaking way.
In Long Shot, Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, an investigative journalist you’d likely find working for VICE, tackling tough stories while wearing a hoodie and sporting a healthy beard. Theron plays Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State running a failing presidential campaign who is advised that she needs to inject some life into her campaign if she stands a chance at winning. So, she decides to hire Fred to be her campaign writer. You probably know how this goes: she hires him for the job and as they spend time together so he can get a sense of who she is, they also end up falling in love. The big twist on their relationship, however, is that Charlotte used to be Fred’s babysitter, giving their bond a built-in sense of familiarity that helps justify why these two are able to connect so quickly.
The trailer makes it clear that Fred and Charlotte are two very different people, and even though Fred’s a capable writer, he’s falling for the freakin’ Secretary of State. Come. On. Even if Long Shot works to subvert expectations by making it clear these two have a history, which eases the oddness around their mismatched personalities, it’s clear that Fred is punching above his weight. Way, way above his weight.
And this is what bugs me. Long Shot follows a long line of films that feature a man who feels entitled to pursue the woman who is classically beautiful or accomplished while the heroine lowers her standards or rejects her initial impulse to turn him down. Think of Hitch, Superbad or even Knocked Up (another Rogen joint that reminds us he has the market cornered in terms of this trope). In each of these films — and there’s countless others, trust me — the guy in the relationship dynamic is just schlubby: an underachiever, goofy, crass, ignorant ne’er-do-well while the woman is successful, attractive and often depicted as a Type A personality.
What’s more galling is that instead of sticking up for the female character in this dynamic, showing that she is staying firm to her initial instinct, reaction and rejection of the male lead, these movies send the message to women to “Give him a chance!” Charlotte, a surrogate perspective for all of the women watching, is supposed to lower her standards because Fred is being nice to her.
It’s probably unfair to completely demonize the way a man comes off in this kind of relationship dynamic because they also get the short end of the stick in these scenarios: they are shown as deadbeats, overweight even though they’re actually average, or they’re painted as nerdy, scruffy or any other kind of trait not deemed traditionally attractive by Hollywood’s standards. In real life, the heart wants what it wants and regardless of what someone looks like physically, they deserve to be loved. But what I am opposed to is the way movies present characters who often have their physical appearance conflated with their unsavory or disappointing personalities and romantic motivations. These men onscreen are characterized by their complete lack of maturity or understanding that they are not owed a woman’s time and attention based on the time and attention they give them.
If these movies are centered on men feeling like they can go after a woman more accomplished or driven than them, they better be able to have the receipts that prove they can match her every step of the way. It’s what every woman in these movies deserves, just like it’s what women deserve in real life.