James Jay Edwards reviews Irresistible, a political satire film written and directed by Jon Stewart and starring Steve Carell and Rose Byrne.
Jon Stewart is best known as the outspoken ex-host of Comedy Central’s news satire program The Daily Show. He is a little less known as a writer/director, but he does that as well. And, of course, he has a lot to say on that front, too. And he says it all in his newest feature Irresistible.
Irresistible stars Steve Carell (The Office) as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic political strategist who is still licking his wounds from the 2016 Presidential Election when he stumbles across a YouTube video that inspires him. The video shows a retired military veteran named Jack Hastings (Little Women’s Chris Cooper) confronting the mayor of his conservative rural town (Deadwood’s Brent Sexton) during a public meeting. Seeing an opportunity, Gary travels to Deerlaken, Wisconsin, to convince Jack to run against the incumbent Republican mayor as a Democrat in an upcoming election. This attracts the attention of Gary’s biggest rival, Republican political strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne from Bridesmaids), who comes to town to manage the Mayor’s campaign. And that’s where the national circus begins.
(Irresistible, theatrical release poster, Focus Features)
Stewart’s previous film, Rosewater, was a tense political drama. Irresistible stands in stark contrast to that film. Basically, it’s a true political satire, one that uses a small midwestern town’s election as a microcosmic analogy for the entire American political system. Unfortunately, it hits a little too close to home for it to be truly funny. It’s actually a little sad. And that’s probably Stewart’s point in of it all.
Much like what happens during real elections, the Deerlaken mayoral race does not come down to Jack Hastings vs. Mayor Braun. It comes down to Gary Zimmer vs. Faith Brewster. As the contest heats up and the eyes of the entire country focus on the tiny race, millions of national dollars are spent, and things quickly get personal. Both big-time D.C. consultants bring their knowledge of the unscrupulous to the innocent little town, constantly trying to one-up each other to gain a leg up. While it’s all played for laughs, there’s nothing funny about Faith lying about originally being from Deerlaken or Gary exploiting a wounded war veteran just for the sake of winning votes.
(Irresistible, Focus Features)
The naivety of the townspeople is charming, though. These people don’t even have WiFi in their little burg, so Gary has to explain everything—literally everything—about political campaigns to his volunteers, and his almost-fair way of explaining things serves as a curtain-pulling eye-opener for the political layman, both onscreen and off. Of course, Gary has to remind his people to make their phone bank calls from the voter call list instead of the office contact list. But he also has to explain Super PACS to them (right as he’s forming one), and he goes over with them the differences between polls and trends in forecasting results. And he unwittingly (for Gary, but wittingly for Stewart) exposes the many flaws in the system.
The most poignant moment in the movie comes when Jack and Gary head to New York to do a little fundraising. In a room full of rich potential donors, Jack breaks into an aw-shucks speech asking why, instead of staying home and working on improving his town, he had to travel to the big city to get money for a campaign that has nothing to do with anyone in the room besides himself. It’s a great monologue, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: it raises funds. But that’s also exactly what Jack was railing against. A frustratingly beautiful moment in a fairly average movie.
(Irresistible, Focus Features)
From a cinematic standpoint, Irresistible is nothing groundbreaking. The plot is standard and the characters are stock. It does have a clever rug-pull ending, but all that does is expose the plot holes that exist in everything that comes before it. From a political standpoint, however, Irresistible opens some eyes to the corruption and crookedness of the American electoral process. And if anyone’s got strong opinions about the American election process, it’s Jon Stewart. Sure, the movie leans liberal, but Stewart shines a light on the whole ugly mess, and no one comes out smelling like a rose. Just like in real politics, there are no heroes in Irresistible, just different shades of villainy.