Ever since Jon Stewart started writing and directing movies, and ever since he quit “The Daily Show”, I’m sure all of his fans were eagerly awaiting the day when he’d come out with a political satire. The wait is finally over, and not a moment too soon.
Irresistible sets its stage in Deerlaken, a tiny Wisconsin town that’s been economically devastated by the closure of a local Marine base. A town hall is held to debate a new austerity measure that could hurt people who are already in dire need of assistance. Enter Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a longtime resident who gives an impassioned speech against the new measure, and the speech goes viral.
This catches the attention of Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), a Democratic strategist who served on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, still suffering from that loss. Gary looks at this Marine widower farmer from the American Heartland talking like a bona fide progressive in a language that rural conservative voters can understand, and he sees a budding politician to help make Wisconsin into a swing state. Long story short, Jack agrees to run for mayor of Deerlaken if — and only if — Gary runs the campaign himself. Thus Gary sets up a new home base in Deerlaken and we’re off to the races.
It’s at roughly this point where we meet Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), Gary’s counterpart for the Republicans. The two apparently have such a fierce rivalry that the moment Faith sees all the money and manpower Gary’s putting into this campaign, Faith has to swoop in and throw her weight behind the incumbent. (That would be Mayor Braun, played by Brent Sexton.) From there, both sides push each other to escalate until things inevitably spiral out of control. Hilarity ensues.
It’s perhaps worth adding that the movie opens with Faith and Gary addressing reporters, delivering the exact same speech word-for-word, telling reporters not to believe whatever it was they thought they witnessed in the last Clinton/Trump debate. And in the mid-credits stinger, we’re treated to a cable news roundtable discussion, in which an anchor talks about how maybe reporting facts that conform to a specific narrative — without regard to what’s actually true — might be actively harmful. So literally from start to finish, it’s made perfectly clear that A) this is very much a Jon Stewart picture, and B) not everything in this film is supposed to be taken literally.
In America — especially in Trump-era America — the sad and simple truth is that too much is never enough when it comes to satirizing politics. The filmmakers could’ve gone over, above, and beyond the top, and it still wouldn’t be any crazier than the non-fictional headlines and players we’ve seen for the past few years.
Without regard for any leanings toward the left or the right, this is the bipartisan truth that the film is all about: Our elections — all the way up and down the ballot — have gotten absurdly convoluted, needlessly cutthroat, too dependent on money, and far more complicated than it has to be.
But on another level, this is very much a movie about the economic and geographical divide between the political elite and the suburban yokel. Despite ostensibly living in the same nation and under the same laws, the two of them barely seem to speak the same language. Yet the two of them need each other — the political elites need suburban voters and the moral self-righteousness that comes with feeling like they’re helping the less fortunate, while the yokels need… well, they need money. They need food, they need schools, they need roads, they need jobs.
So the massive Election Industrial Complex descends unto the American Heartland every election season, spending and raising tens of millions of dollars trying to get out the vote for one candidate or another. And as soon as the election’s over, they pack up and leave the residents to their ongoing problems. If all of that money isn’t going to help out these broke rural voters, then where the hell is it going?
The movie goes to plenty of outrageous lengths in making its arguments (the crusty old super-donor Elton Chambers, played by Bill Irwin, is my personal favorite case in point). Yet the conclusions themselves are always presented with the utmost sincerity, and the genuinely human, heartfelt moments between characters are taken very seriously. It’s that exact sense of duality that made Stewart such a legendary satirist during his tenure on “The Daily Show”, and it pays off beautifully here.
Speaking of which, of course Stewart couldn’t resist a few subtle callbacks to his old stomping grounds. Even before the opening credits, there’s an Easter Egg shouting out to Stephen Colbert. We’ve also got Desi Lydic — a current correspondent who came on when Trevor Noah took over — appearing as an anchor on Fox & Friends (here skewered every bit as mercilessly as you’d expect).
But of course the big one is Steve Carell, front and center as the star of the film. Here, Carell is playing a head honcho who genuinely loves his work, though he’s out of touch with his employees and prone to comical outbursts. (Sound familiar?) Carell has been visibly desperate to make films about heavier subject matter (see also: Welcome to Marwen, Battle of the Sexes, Beautiful Boy, Foxcatcher, etc.), but it never seems to work because he keeps taking all of these dramatic roles and the man has always been a born comedian. Here, he gets to have his cake and eat it too, under a writer/director with years of practice in getting Carell to make a serious point in a comical way.
The rest of the cast is remarkably solid as well. The comically arch bitch in charge is a well-practiced tool in Rose Byrne’s kit, and she plays it superbly well against Carell’s practiced schtick. Of course Chris Cooper brings the salt-of-the-earth gravitas that the role so badly needed. Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne both turn in brief yet amusing comic turns, and Debra Messing’s speaking cameo was a laugh riot.
But the standout for me is Mackenzie Davis, here playing Jack’s daughter, Diana Hastings. I’ve made no secret that I’ve been an adoring fan of Davis ever since The Martian, and this film demonstrates all the reasons why. She’s funny, she’s whip-smart, and she’s strong enough to hold her own against all the seasoned veterans running their established routines. It really is astounding how well Davis’ own sensibilities blend with those of Stewart, effortlessly delivering the same balance of comedy, heart, and intelligence that we’d expect from Jon Stewart at his finest. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t the potential love angle, playing Diana as a potential romantic interest for Gary, even though she’s clearly half his age. This would indeed be the typical Hollywood thing to do, and I’m happy to say the film subverts that trope rather deftly.
That said, Diana is also at the center of the big climactic plot twist, and this is probably where a good chunk of the audience will jump ship. Without going into details, it’s one of those moments in the film that makes a ton of thematic sense, but absolutely zero literal sense. This twist is the thematic linchpin of the movie, the crux of its most powerful statements about the Election Industrial Complex. And those statements are sadly undercut by the myriad of contrivances that it took to make this whole ridiculous plan actually work.
Still, the twist works on an intellectual and emotional level, even if it doesn’t work on a plot level. So while it costs the movie points, I can’t quite call it a dealbreaker.
I honestly had a good time with Irresistible. Yes, the film often makes more sense as an abstract statement about politics than a concrete plot, and a lot of the humor stems from actors delivering the same schtick we’ve seen from them a million times before. With that in mind, it’s probably no surprise that this is exactly as intelligent, funny, uplifting, incisive, and heartfelt as I had expected. Definitely give this a look.