Well, I had to ask myself: Why was I watching a movie whose primary purpose was to entertain an audience for whom fantasies of sleeping with the hot babysitter, and graphic depictions of masturbation in front of a laptop, all but literally hit home?
My ostensible reason for watching Long Shot, which stars Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, made some sense. I wanted to see if this romantic comedy, which depicted the relationship between a speechwriter and the Secretary of State, mirrored my own experience. After all, I had been a speechwriter myself for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, from 2010-2012.
But in short order, I was squirming in the dark, thinking about how many people I’d have to squeeze in my row to get out.
To be clear, I do not come to bury Long Shot in moral indignation (well, not too much). After all, as a former film critic, I spent almost a quarter century reviewing movies, many even trashier than this. I had long since learned not to let reflexive moral outrage get in the way of a readable review. In fact, I actually found myself looking forward to reviewing Jackass Number Two, to make the point that Joseph Campbell might well have appreciated the movie as a rite of passage for young men to test themselves. The cast of Jackass was really no different from the ancient divers who leaped from the cliffs at Pu’u Keka’a, Maui or La Quebrada, Mexico.
To briefly recap the plotline, Rogen plays a far-left liberal journalist who is incensed that a right-wing media mogul (clearly referencing Rupert Murdoch) has bought up his publication. He is invited to apply as a speechwriter for Charlotte Field, the very sophisticated and glamorous U.S. Secretary of State (Theron) who has presidential ambitions. He gets the job and, it turns out, she used to be his babysitter and he had the worst kind of crush on her.
They tumble into love and, in very short order, are not only making out behind grand doors of state but popping MDMA and giggling in the back seat of limousines before you can say what the WD-40 is going on here?
Again, this is not some outraged response to a movie being raunchy. It’s about what it so casually selects for its target. Sitting there, and hearing the laughter in the audience, it was clear to me that things like national service have evolved from a point of pride to an almost universally agreed-upon punchline.
In the movie, there is almost no internal recognition that being a Secretary of State is anything more than a good set up. It’s a suitably impressive gig—the movie’s not exactly sure why, just that the media seems to think it’s a big deal—and as such, makes a cool comic set up.
As the aforementioned moment with the laptop took place, I thought about a far different moment in the year 2010. I had completed my background security check. I had signed a voluminous pile of papers. I had the job. Writing speeches for the Secretary of State. I could hardly believe it. And now it was time for the swearing-in, in front of a U.S. flag in a dimly lit office in the State Department. I had only recently been made a U.S. citizen. And now I was raising my right hand to uphold the laws of the United States, foreswear its enemies, and to serve my country.
I felt a deep inhalation of honor to the soul, a moment of pure patriotism. And as I declared my allegiance, I was choked up. And I carried that feeling throughout my seven years as a speechwriter in the Obama administration.
I did not, for one moment, think my service compared in any way to the kind of sacrifice that, for example, John McCain made for his country. But I made myself available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to articulate our foreign policy to people across this country and abroad.
Again, I hope I am not resorting to moral outrage which, as a film critic I had already put aside, so I could better embrace movie fans of every kind. But I am simply revisiting the subtle gut punch I sustained to a quiet little corner of my inner makeup. And I look forward to a restoration of the time when you can once again refer to public service as a point of pride not a punchline. To a time when it’s understood, once again, that McCain served his country like few others have. I truly look forward to the day when, like Charlton Heston, we find ourselves staring at the buried Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. But unlike that character, we won’t just lament what has happened. We’ll shake hands. We’ll embrace. We’ll even enjoy raunchy comedies together. And we will work together to unearth that statue from under the sands of reflexive derision, false assertions, and xenophobia.