Every day the world becomes more divided than united because of collective forgetfulness. On the one side is the Radical Left seeking free healthcare for everyone, diversity, and pushing toward growth from past mistakes via responsible acknowledgement. On the other is the Radical Right seeking tighter border controls, a push toward anti-socialism, and pride in historical culture. From here, political parties and their pundits bat citizens back and forth, hurling insults at one another while integrating code words to stir up their respective bases. Differences are fine for the citizenry of a nation. For the United States, the lack of homogeny is what has led to advances in science, technology, the arts, and more. And yet, with increasing virulence, every election cycle we are reminded of what separates and the breach between friends and family grows ever wider. Returning to explore the United States political system and its relationship to the electorate is writer/director Jon Stewart (Rosewater) with his comedic drama Irresistible. On its surface, Irresistible looks to be a light-weight rom-com set on entertaining audiences with engaging performances from Steve Carell (Space Force), Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids), Chris Cooper (Little Women), Mackenzie Davis (Izzy Gets the F**k Across Town), Topher Grace (BlackKklansman), Natasha Lyonne (Ad Astra), and more. From a political mind like Stewart’s, you get that and a whole lot more.
After getting knocked back on his heels in the 2016 presidential election when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lost, political strategist Gary Zimmer (Carell) finds something inspiring in a viral video of a former colonel, Jack Hastings (Cooper), speaking his mind at a city hall meeting regarding the budget. Hastings’s town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, may be conservative, but Hastings’s words speak a populist message, one which speaks about faith and community, about raising all of us up, and about leaving no one behind. Galvanized by Hastings’s words, Zimmer travels to Deerlaken in hopes of convincing Hastings to run for mayor, believing that a campaign for Hastings could create a ripple effect across the country. With Hastings and his daughter Diana (Davis) on board, Zimmer engages his team in, what they think, will be an easy victory. That is until Zimmer’s Republican rival Faith Brewster (Byrne) brings the full-weight of the RNC to Deerlaken to back Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). Suddenly, a small stakes mayoral election turns into a battle for the future of American politics.
Those familiar with Stewart’s work in politics, whether through his time on The Daily Show or his blistering takedown of Congress’s lack of protections for 9/11 first responders, will find that his script for Irresistible is no less cutting of the U.S.’s political system than his words have ever been. Using Cooper’s Hastings as a cypher for the audience, we are taken through the political process from the grassroots to top dollar donors. We are invited to look in on the process which, through Carell’s Zimmer, is intended to be one of vicious righteousness fueled by hope, hope that guides Zimmer to make choices benefiting the small town of Deerlaken, a town left in ruin after the military base left, which will also benefit his political party at large. In this case, Zimmer’s opportunism becomes a journey of personal reflection as it is a proxy for an examination of political altruism. Right now, at the time of this writing, one party actively seeks to manipulate facts, while the other engages in performative acts of solidarity. The idealism that Zimmer sees in Hastings is not just a chance for Zimmer to prove himself in the political arena, but a chance to be a part of what politics should be.
To be clear, Hastings isn’t just some kind of innocent proxy for the audience. Cooper plays him as a smart, thoughtful, reserved man who desires more for his community than it has. The expectation is that he’ll be some kind of straight man for Zimmer, but he’s not. Instead, Stewart uses the small town focus as the set-up for jokes illustrating stereotypes on Republican culture or to dunk on Carell’s beltway strategist. The comedy, believe it or not, comes from the situations Zimmer creates and how he reacts to them. Instead, Hastings and the people of Deerlaken more accurately serve as the doorway from which to explore the political system by way of the seemingly small stakes of a mayoral election in small town America. The truth is, no one on either side of the political spectrum is safe from Stewart’s evicerative ideas. Even though a great deal of Irresistible is set up as a political comedy, in many ways, the film has more in common with satirical horror film The Hunt, but is less violent and bloody. Because of the premise and writer/director, audiences will go in expecting one thing and I can almost guarantee they’ll come out absolutely flummoxed by the end result. Stewart doesn’t so much use the comedy he presents to encourage the audience to laugh at the ridiculousness of the modern political system, he appears to ask why we’re not outraged by it. The truth is, even for all the hope Hastings represents in what it means for good people to seek leadership positions to help their community, their entire community, the system is now being operated to benefit those most in power and not the least of us. Hastings running isn’t about party lines, but about conviction. Too often, especially in modern politics, it’s about defeating the opposition and voting along party lines then voting for ideas.
Even with the subtext of disproval in the current political system, Irresistible is also a really fun comedy with a cast up to the task of whatever the narrative needs. Though some cast members could be accused of merely being there for stunt purposes due to lack of screentime, each of them provides a certain energy and aura to their character that helps shortchange the relationship between audience and actor so that we, the audience, can get fully on-board with whatever is happening. The events of the film take place roughly over a month, so time being of the essence, things have to move fast. Carell brings a sort of lovableness to Zimmer that makes his more stereotypical elitism acceptable and his nebbishness charming. It certainly helps that any war of words is between Carell’s Zimmer and Byrne’s Brewster, to whom he almost always loses in the best possible way. For her part, Byrne’s more than able to keep up with Carell, often dominating every scene they have together. Honestly, you can feel the energy shift in the scene anytime Brewster is present, visible or otherwise, and it’s always to the betterment of the narrative. Cooper, of course, is more than capable of bringing that “everyman” style we’ve seen in a variety of ranging performances including American Beauty (1999) and Little Women (2019). But here’s the thing about Irresistible that’ll also surprise beyond the subtext: it’s actually an ensemble film. Yes, you’ll buy your ticket to see Cooper look amused as Carell and Byrne trade barbs, but without smaller performances from Will Sasso (Justified), Will McLaughlin (Parks and Rec), Blair Sams (Boardwalk Empire), Sexton, Davis, Grace, and Lyonne, the totality of Irresistible just wouldn’t be as amusing and as thoughtful as Stewart aims for it to be.
In a tight 101 minutes, Jon Stewart returns to do what he does best: make us laugh and make us think. His 11 pm program on Comedy Central was must-see television for a generation of audience member, people who showed up to listen and laugh, to be challenged by the way not a single politician, officer, or official was given a free pass when it came to failing to serve the American people. Irresistible is a prime example of what his fans have missed and what they so desperately lack: a voice of such intelligence and care that he’s not afraid to piss people off if it gets them to engage. And right now, audiences need to be engaged with the real world and, if we don’t pay attention and take action, then nothing changes. Come for the cast, stay for the comedy, and leave ready to take the entire system to task.
Available on VOD June 26th, 2020.
Head to the official Irresistible website for more information.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.