Synopsis: A Democratic political consultant helps a retired Marine colonel run for mayor in a small Wisconsin town.
Stars: Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Rose Byrne, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Davis, Natasha Lyonne, Eve Gordon, Brent Sexton, Will Sasso, Debra Messing, Alan Aisenberg
Director: Jon Stewart
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: About a month ago, I shut down all my social media for about two weeks because I just couldn’t take it anymore…things had gotten so ugly in all aspects. Everyone hated everything and there was nothing nice that could be said about anything happening in the world. What was the point in reading page after page and tweet after tweet of negativity? Eventually, I had to give in and get back into the swing of things if I wanted to promote my reviews and, let’s face it, see what the celebrities were up to on Instagram.
This brief respite was nice but I know it’s only going to get worse as we head toward the election in November. Political comedy has changed from what it was during the time Saturday Night Live was spoofing Gerald Ford, Bush Sr., and Bush Jr. and the humor has morphed from eliciting belly laughs to grimaces because it is a little too on the money. The reality of our current administration is so spoofable that it should be funny…until you realize that it’s no laughing matter with lives and livelihood on the line. It’s hard to joke about a heightened politicized climate that is increasingly volatile and hostile.
That’s what makes a movie like Irresistible such a strange beast to approach. On the one hand, writer/director Jon Stewart (Rosewater) has delivered a pleasantly serviceable comedy aiming to address topical issues concerning the way government can be manipulated and in that way the film is a success. However, if you look at it through the lens of where the country sits at the present within its release platform, the message being received feels out of touch and off key. In his sophomore outing as a director, Stewart’s film almost instantly casts a shadow on itself, categorizing it squarely as a decent effort with sadly little impact.
Political strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell, Welcome to Marwen) still feels the sting of the 2016 election where he saw his Democratic candidate win the popular vote but ultimately not emerge victorious in the general election. After one of his staffers shows him a video gone viral of a retired colonel (Chris Cooper, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) defending the rights of immigrant workers in a small town in Wisconsin, he decides to travel to the Midwestern town and convince the conservative veteran to run for Mayor…as a Democrat. Initially hesitant, Jack agrees to enter the race and with Gary’s help begins a campaign to oust the current Republican mayor (Brent Sexton) who is taken off-guard but this late-breaking opponent.
Gary’s plan is bigger than a Wisconsin mayoral race, though, and that’s when political rival Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne, Like a Boss) enters the picture. Arriving in town to serve as the strategist for the mayor, she comes with Republican money to pour into the campaign in order to hold their ground. She knows as well as Gary that if he can flip this heartland community from conservative to Democrat, perhaps he can use that to his advantage in the 2020 cycle. Soon, Faith and Gary are circling each other like the sharks they are and readying their dirty tricks as the townspeople and Jack’s daughter (Mackenzie Davis, Blade Runner 2049) watch from the increasingly forgotten sidelines.
As a straight up comedy, Irresistible has its moments of clarity and hilarity and Stewart mines the gold in the comedic hills of Gary’s big city ways clashing with the homegrown support of the townspeople. It’s when the movie walks the line of balancing itself out as a political satire that things begin to get a bit hazy. There’s a good deal of fun to be had at the expense of both Democrats and Republicans and Stewart has his talking points clearly laid out to drill home again and again. We understand he thinks the current system is designed to fail the small and benefit the large but it’s packaged in such a transparent framework that the message doesn’t come off feeling as clever as he thinks it is. That’s especially true for a rather cuckoo twist he unwraps at one point and it’s then you see the entire movie was designed around this gotcha moment.
If Stewart can’t quite nail the narrative of the piece, at least he’s cast the film with commendable effort. Carell is nicely pitched in the lead and I’d be interested in hearing a commentary track for the film where the two men discuss the process of Stewart pitching the project to his old corespondent at The Daily Show and how they worked together making it. I like that Carell didn’t play to the usual lunacy of the fish out of water tale but laid off the gas pedal for a more reserved reaction to everything that came his way. Speaking of laid back, Cooper exerts the exact amount of energy required for the role and then sort of coasts…that’s not a negative per se, it works for what he’s trying to accomplish in any given scene. I consistently like what Davis does on screen and while Stewart doesn’t really develop her character until the end, Davis is smart enough to use what she’s given in early scenes to make what transpires near the end come off better than it should. She’s not in the movie as much as the poster and trailers make you think she is, but when Byre is present she’s the best thing happening and easily steals her scenes.
If Irresistible had been released five years ago would we feel differently about it? I think so. There’s just too much bad going on in politics right now to be able to stop and find the satire clever or the pointed importance in the small potatoes mash Stewart puts on the plate. Viewed solely as a comedy about a man in limbo needing to learn a lesson about himself, I think it’s enjoyable on the whole but the moment it has to be classified in the political arena the frivolity of the affair becomes less appealing.