Obviously, a lot has changed in the political landscape in the last few decades. Things have gotten unarguably worse and more ridiculous to the point where satire has become an almost impossible task. That’s nothing new, and I don’t really feel like litigating this point that I seem to be drawn to making every time a new political satire is released. Nevertheless, Irresistible is not just out of step with our times because it attempts to poke fun at a system in which no figure could ever be as outsized and outlandish as Donald Trump; it’s out of step with our times because it plays like a movie with weirdly little awareness of what the stakes could even be at this point in time.
The second feature film by Jon Stewart has drawn comparison with works that have truly not stood the test of time like Swing Vote, Welcome to Mooseport or Our Brand Is Crisis — similarly toothless explorations of the flaws and perpetual spin of elections that nevertheless existed in a world that was at least a little different from ours. It would be one thing for Stewart to make a calculated throwback; it’s an entirely different one for him to make one that’s so ineffectual and yet so self-satisfied.
Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is a Democratic political strategist who had his ass handed to him in 2016, becoming a sort of scapegoat for the outsized confidence of Democrats opposite Trump. Zimmer — a well-meaning Liberal blowhard caricature in every conceivable way — believes that the Democratic Party can only recover from this blow by courting the exact same voter base that gave Trump the win: hardworking middle Americans who love burgers, Budweisers and Nascar.
He finds the perfect candidate for that in Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a retired Marine and Wisconsin farmer who goes viral while giving an impassioned pro-migrant speech at City Hall. Zimmer decides that helping Hastings win the mayoral race in his 5,000-people town is a perfect opportunity to give the Dems a little spring in their step — except that the race ratchets up in intensity considerably when Zimmer’s nemesis, ruthless Fox News bottle blonde Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) shows up to back the current mayor.
Irresistible trades in shorthand and clichés, which is admittedly a necessary by-product of not only the kind of limp satire it’s trying to be but also of where the film eventually takes us. Still, there is no cliché quite as off-putting as the character of Zimmer, an SUV-NPR haughty liberal who hates everyone and everything and is single-minded in his determination that he understands the world and his place in it. Zimmer shows up at the town’s German-themed bar and orders a Budweiser, which he assumes will make him more relatable to the salt-of-the-earth guys sitting at the bar; the bar staff has to go across the street to buy him a six-pack, something that he doesn’t even notice happening. It’s not a bad gag if the character is supposed to be the kind of hapless but well-meaning character that Carell has made his stock in trade, but he isn’t. He just fucking sucks and is an asshole that acts like no human I’ve ever met. (He walks around incredulous and filled with rage when people say hi to him on the street — which might be surprising but not exactly a foreign experience if you’ve been alive on this Earth.)
This kind of dumb shorthand extends to the rest of the film, which soon starts filling in the margins with equally stock politico characters (like a numbers expert played by Topher Grace and a social media expert played by Natasha Lyonne, both of whom are wasted in the kinds of roles that usually go to freshly minted UCB alumni) and cranking up the rivalry between Gary and Faith into more well-worn (but admittedly less smug) territory. Irresistible eventually winds up existing in a space where it is both blindingly obvious what Jon Stewart is trying to say and unclear exactly what he’s saying, except perhaps that both sides are guilty of the same things and that condescending to the “common man” helps no one. Of course, there’s nothing I like more than being condescended to about my own condescension — it’s the absolute best way to get a message across, isn’t it?
All of this would probably be forgivable and bump Irresistible up to the coveted category of “watchable fluff” if it were even mildly funny or in possession of interesting comedic angles on what is ultimately an extremely banal teacher-sitting-on-the-chair-backwards civics lesson. There are a few good gags sprinkled throughout, but it mainly trades in stuff like a recurring bit where an old lady from the village (named, I think, Phyllis or Myrtle) walks by as Carell is being vulgar, or a broadside-of-a-barn-obvious sight gag in which Carell first sees the colonel’s daughter (Mackenzie Davis) as an angelic vision only to turn the corner and reveal that she’s elbow-deep in a cow’s ass. It’s hard to believe watching this mayonnaise-ass Sundance castoff that Jon Stewart was the edgy voice-of-reason less than a decade ago. Irresistible shows that, as a filmmaker, he’d be lucky to be compared to Jason Reitman. ■
Irresistible is on VOD on Friday, June 26. See more details here. Watch the trailer below:
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