I am not going to spoil the twist in Jon Stewart’s feature film, Irresistible, except to spoil that there is a twist in the political film. That a twist exists in and of itself may come as a surprise to anyone who has seen the trailer or other marketing materials for the movie (Roxana will be along this weekend with a spoiler discussion). Irresistible looks like a amiable, easy-going low-stakes political comedy set in a small Wisconsin town which is meant to pleasantly act as a microcosm for our national political scene, and it is … if we still lived in 2006, and if the biggest problems confronting us right now were 24-hour news networks and campaign finance reforms, instead of, you know, a pandemic, a recession, and a country being led by an incompetent, idiotic racist Nazi and his loyalists.
Jon Stewart’s Irresistible harkens back to a simpler time, when we ignored all of the systemic problems that would eventually give rise to the Presidency of Donald Trump. This feels like a movie that Mitt Romney and his family might enjoy, and with all due respect to Jon Stewart — whom I adore — go f*ck yourself. Now is not the time.
Irresistible is like looking around and seeing that the world is on fire and deciding to change the batteries on the smoke detector. Cool! Now the world is on fire, and we have to listen to the annoying squeal of a smoke detector. There’s no way that Jon Stewart could have known that Irresistible would arrive in the midst of a pandemic, but also, did Jon Stewart turn off his television and stop watching the news after his run on The Daily Show ended and Donald Trump was elected? Jon Stewart’s political grievances are not petty, exactly, but they are of another time, and frankly, it feels almost dismissive here to ignore the fire and focus on the smoke detector.
Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a D.C. political consultant who sees Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) go viral on YouTube when he stands up for undocumented workers during a town council meeting in Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Zimmer sees in Hastings an opportunity to appeal to Democrats in “America’s heartland” (and by that, he means Trump country), so he relocates to bumf*ck to spearhead Hastings’ mayoral campaign against an entrenched incumbent (Brent Sexton).
The attention that Zimmer — the Democratic National Committee’s top strategist — brings to this small-town race attracts more attention from the Republican Party, which sends in its top consultant, the foul-mouthed, proudly dishonest Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne). With the help of Hastings’ daughter, Diana (Mackenzie Davis), some inexperienced volunteers and some professionals (like characters played by Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne), Zimmer manages to raise a ton of outside money and turn a race where the Democrat was 30 points down into a dead heat.
There are a few mild political zingers (and at one point, you can hear someone mumble “F*ckface von Clownstick” off-camera), but most of the humor in Irresistible comes from the fish-out-of-water premise, where the D.C. consultant tries — with mixed success — to fit in with the locals, who are mostly wiser than they appear. It’s all very Doc Hollywood, and to his credit, Carell is just fine in a role that doesn’t honestly ask that much of him. It’s the same asshole-we-like energy he produced on seven seasons of The Office. Meanwhile Rose Byrne is an enjoyable scene-stealer, and Mackenzie Davis’ feigned naïveté proves pivotal to the twist (although how Stewart nods toward a potential romantic relationship between Davis’ and Carell’s character feels kind of gross, even after it is dismissed).
As for that twist? Again, without giving it away, I’ll say this about it: If you are enjoying Irresistible for what it is — a slow-moving (dull), gentle political comedy with no teeth and very little to say — the twist might spoil your sleepily pleasant mood. Personally, I didn’t think the twist saved the movie — as a “political” comedy it is irredeemable — but at least I didn’t lose complete respect for Jon Stewart, who it turns out is trying to say something, it’s just that the something is not reflective of the times. Irresistible feels of another era, but not in a nostalgic way, but in a way that feels vaguely insulting and dismissive. Jon Stewart had his finger on the pulse of American politics for 16 years as host of The Daily Show; there is no pulse in Irresistible. It feels like the amputated arm of American politics that bled out sometime around the rise of birtherism.
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