With movie theaters closed, many studios have decided to release current-run movies out for streaming and download. I caught up with the second film from comedian/writer/director Jon Stewart
When Jon Stewart’s career is long gone, he will be known for two things: comedy and politics. During his run on The Daily Show, Stewart redefined what political humor and satire could mean to a populous. Young voters trusted him, a fake newsman, more than actual news anchors. So much of this was because of his passion: he cared not just about crafting the best possible joke, but the best possible argument.
It’s why my hopes for Irresistable, Stewart’s second film as a writer/director, were so high. It’s also why I was so disappointed by the final product: a scattershot bleh of a film which spends most of its’ time feeling lost and never finding out what it’s trying to be or who its’ characters are.
Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a DNC political consultant wrecked by the 2016 election (where, SPOILER, Donald Trump won) and trying to find what his next move is. Salvation appears when he sees a YouTube video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a resident in a small Wisconsin town standing up for illegal immigrants because it’s the right thing to do, in his mind. Zimmer sees Hastings as the kind of voter that his party has abandoned, and a plan hatches: he will go to Deerlaken, Wisconsin and convince Hastings to run for mayor… as a Democrat.
Hastings agrees so long as Zimmer stays in Wisconsin and serves as his campaign manager, and it’s off to the mayoral races. But Zimmer’s appearance in Wisconsin draws the attention of his Republican rival, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), who rushes to Wisconsin in order to offer RNC support for the mayor (Brent Sexton). Brewster and Zimmer attempt to bring their big-scale political muscle into a small-town race, and the whole town is eventually sucked in.
The first half of this film is pretty decent, and so much of it has to do with the performances that Carell and Cooper are giving. As Zimmer, Steve Carell brings enough charm for us to understand why he would be able to be a political consultant. You can also see some heart in his character: he’s not just trying to bring Hastings into the Democratic party, he’s trying to improve the whole party by remembering that they can include all voices, not just the special interests that his co-workers seem to be pandering towards.
Chris Cooper, as always, is amazing, and when he’s onscreen, he shows us why he is one of our nation’s best actors. That man does just as much with a pause or a sigh as he can with a line of dialogue, and he does his best to make everything matter. As a man with deep rural Wisconsin roots, he would easily fit in at any VFW hall or small town bar. The problem is, Cooper all but disappears the second half of the movie, and there is no emotional anchor to keep the film tethered. And when he is present, he seems to be apathetic to all of the ethical quandaries Zimmer is getting him into, making us wonder why he’s even running in the first place.
The rest of the cast is trying their best, but given so little to do. Rose Byrne is an actress I consistently enjoy, but Faith Brewster is so shallow and so empty, she has nowhere to go with the character. There’s never a really decent establishing reason why she’s in the movie except because her career seems to only be irritating Zimmer. When you take away her name-calling, there’s nothing behind it.
This is an impressive cast filled with actors I really like- Mackenzie Davis, Will Sasso, Sexton, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne- all capable of being amazing onscreen. Stewart fails all of these people by not giving their characters any time or touch. They all just seem to be around to advance the ridiculous theatrics of Carell and Byrne.
And it’s not just the characters that fail Irresistible; most angles of the story fall apart under the smallest scrutiny. It has elements of the condescension that politics have for Middle America, but not enough to really make a coherent point on it. There are touches on how corrupt elections are once big money enters into the mix, but it’s never dealt with in any sort of way to make it a major focus of the film. I won’t spoil this film’s ending, only to say that it comes after too much being thrown at the screen in the hopes that something, ANYTHING, will stick. And because of that, it just fades away like the rest of this morally ambiguous film where there’s not really a character to root for.
To be fair, Stewart is capable of bringing laughs. The first half of this film is genuinely funny and there are throwaway jokes, mostly about the uselessness of cable news media, that hit and hit hard. But none of those serve to move the story around. This film may have worked better as a series of sketches about individual topics because it doesn’t come together to hold its narrative.
And the end of the day, Irresistible just doesn’t give you anything to vote for.