Synopsis – A Democratic strategist helps a retired veteran run for mayor in a small, conservative Midwest town.
My Take – Honestly, I have never been a fan of films based on American politics, even in the form of satires or thrillers, which is mainly due to the lack of my extensive understanding behind the policies and ideologies followed by members of the Democratic Party and their biggest rival, the Republican Party.
But considering how the world’s most powerful government, which despite being crippled by a pandemic, found itself in the midst one of the biggest demonstrations and protests in over 2,000 cities against police brutality and racism, who continue to tear-gas non-violent protesters and indirectly support right-wing militias, they have made it quite easier for the lesser understanding individuals (like myself) to at least separate the good guys from the bad, with a similar scenario also currently playing in India, which is centrally governed by a hate filled goon led uneducated classless political party.
That said, I decided to give this one a go, as I had previously liked whatever snippets I had seen of Jon Stewart‘s The Daily Show, and Steve Carell continues to remain one of my favorite actors working today, hereby losing 102 minutes of my life which I will never get back.
To be fair, I really wanted to like this film, as it owns a bold, intelligent idea that despite being unrealistically absurd, carries an impactful message that I’d love to have seen explored in a deeper level, and not just thrown in a last minute twist. It is at its best when it is making subtle little jokes about racism, immigration, gun violence, political corruption, and showing the audience how handlers stage a political event.
But with a formulaic narrative that weirdly lacks effective humor and any form of unique characterization, the director Jon Stewart struggles to be the proceedings remotely entertaining. Making this a comedy that barely made me chuckle about an activity I sincerely don’t care about. It’s still far from being an awful film, thanks to an outstanding Steve Carell and an exceptional cast, who prevent this film from being a total train wreck. It didn’t work for me, but if you enjoy this sub-genre, go for it.
The story follows Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell), a political strategist and a very successful Democratic campaigner, who is still licking his wounds from the fallout from the 2016 presidential election, in which he was working for Hillary Clinton. But sees an opportunity for redemption when a staff member from his office shows him the viral video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a local farmer and a former Marine Colonel, giving a passionate speech at a local town hall, sticking up for some local folks who are hurting, due to the closure of a military base, which has resulted in businesses being boarded up left and right.
With the members of the party thinking he’s ripe for grooming, Gary finds himself in the fictional town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, with a simple plan – get Jack to run as a Democrat in the local mayor’s race, beat the Republican incumbent, and with the help of Jack’s daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) expand the Democratic base.
However, trouble begins when the Republican National Committee gets wind of this and send Gary’s counterpart Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) to even the playing field. And as the small-town race garners national attention, money starts pouring in from both the DNC and the RNC, the big-city fundraisers, and from newly formed Political Action Committees. Things get intriguing and nasty at the same time as newer and better campaign strategies begin to take hold as Election Day approaches.
Of course, this isn’t a story about the candidates. It’s director Stewart‘s commentary on how campaigns are conducted today. One of the best things about the film is that it is not openly supporting any particular party, yes, the Democrats are portrayed as the good guys here, but that’s what the characters believe. But it’s really much more about the fact that the whole political system is screwed up. Social media and the national news media are weapons, and we see that there’s no such thing no distinction between dirty politics and politics.
He also makes it explicit from the onset that this film isn’t punching down by mocking small-town Americans. These aren’t hayseeds looking to be duped. They’re residents who know what they’re about, no matter what a 30-second ad or TV show might say.
However, the plotting is scattershot, unfocused and his stabs at satirical humor rarely connect. Worse, despite its run time it feels largely lethargic and draggy.
The biggest point director Stewart wants to make about is the millions used in a campaign. Yes, a democracy controlled by wealthy interests is bad, as the film is keen to remind you two hundred times, but there are so many more contingent factors that director Stewart bewilderingly ignores. He seems to believe that if we got money out of politics and learned how to better communicate across the aisle, America would be a straight country, which on a larger scope seems just impossible, for any country.
Making matters worse is the fact that the film is very rarely funny. There are quiet-part-out-loud news segments, in which broadcast networks tell their viewers what’s actually happening; non-political jokes, which are usually edited around to land with good timing; and a clever meta-joke where all the small-town extras have names that everyone seems to know. Other than that, you’ll have to make do with lazy reference humor and insultingly obvious political jabs.
And, without the extraordinary cast, this film would have been a total disaster. Steve Carell, as expected, carries the whole thing to safe harbor. I always loved his mannerisms and expressions, even when some people find them over-the-top or unnecessary. I just can’t not like one of his performances. Chris Cooper delivers yet another phenomenal display of his non aging talent, and rising star Mackenzie Davis just adds one more good performance in to her kitty.
Rose Byrne is hilarious, however, she is also one of the weakest links of the film, as her character’s relationship with Gary Zimmer felt extremely clichéd, with their banter continuously unbalancing the tone. In supporting roles, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne have nice turns, while Brent Sexton, Will Sasso, Debra Messing, Christian Adam, C.J. Wilson and Alan Aisenberg are also good. On the whole, ‘Irresistible’ is a disappointing bland political comedy that fails as a satire despite some exceptional performances.
Directed – Jon Stewart
Rated – R
Run Time – 102 minutes