Review: Jon Stewart's amusing political satire 'Irresistible' hits the mark
Courtesy of Focus Features
For years, Jon Stewart made the country laugh at politics with his insightful and topical program “The Daily Show.” Considering the no holds bar approach to the show (no subject was off limits, no politician safe, and no opinion brushed aside) it’s a bit of a surprise that Stewart‘s new political satire, the earnest and funny “Irresistible,” doesn’t go for the heavy punches or, what most people expect, after Donald Trump. Instead, the former pundit's latest dive in the directing ring tries to be a stark metaphor on how easy it is to buy an election and offer insight into the crazy logistics of campaign finance laws.
For the most part, “Irresistible” hits its mark because Stewart chose to cast his “Daily Show” pupil Steve Carell - who can shove a doughnut in his mouth and earn a laugh - as his leading man. Carell plays democratic strategist Gary Zimmer whose failed attempt at getting Hillary Clinton into the White House in 2016 lingers over his career. Facing pressure from his clients and the democratic party as a whole, he decides to mount an ambitious mayoral campaign in Deerlaken, Wisconsin - a small midwestern town in a key swing state that cost Clinton the election - for military vet Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper).
After being stirred by a viral speech Hastings gave on immigration during a town hall meeting, Gary believes he can turn Jack into the perfect democratic candidate. Except that might prove tough considering the town hasn’t voted liberal in over four decades and the sitting incumbent (Brent Sexton) is well liked in his community. So why would anyone run when the odds are stacked against them? Because Gary believes a groundroots movement in these small towns are the key to helping his party win future elections.
He’s not wrong and if anyone understands these dynamics, it’s Stewart and his screenplay injects witty scenarios and pokes fun at the campaign cycle: including scouts who send out certain pamphlets and flyers based on populations and demographics (a suburb that houses mostly single moms, for example, will get targeted ads relating to paternal care and schooling agendas).
What’s particularly inviting about “Irresistible” is seeing Gary try to adjust from his big DC city life into the small farming town where everybody knows everybody. Long gone are the days of Wifi and Starbucks coffee, say hello to dial-up and decaf!
All those major inconveniences aside, things, for the most part, seem to go smoothly and the polls were trending in Jack’s favor until arch rival and republican strategists Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne - a hilarious godsend) arrives on the scene to help Braun nab the election if only because she loves to watch Gary fail.
What transpires is a classic case of bickering enemies doing anything to win for their candidate, and when they start planting false stories in the tabloids (a child out of wedlock anyone?) you won’t be surprised because “Irresistible” - ironically - can’t resist indulging in those predictable troupes. But when Carell and Byrne fling comical insults and go to war, the film starts to gain some much needed traction and reminds us how satires on this level can still exist when executed correctly.
Where “Irresistible” struggles is in a last second, Hail Mary, lesson on campaign finance laws and you realize the film has been one big gotcha. But the more I sat with it, the more I started to appreciate where Stewart was coming from, and how he tried to use the lens of a comedy to help push his point across. It can seem like a bit of a reach, and who knows how audiences will respond to, essentially, having a fast one pulled on them, but for what Stewart was trying to accomplish, I’d say he succeeded.
IRRESISTIBLE will be available via premium on-demand formats Friday June 26th