Director(s): Jon Stewart
Writer(s): Jon Stewart
Cast: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jun 26, 2020 - VOD
Jon Stewart doesn’t suffer political fools gladly. From his editorials when he hosted The Daily Show to his appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to his appearances in Congress on behalf of 9/11 first responders, he displays passion for his country and contempt for those he feels are misusing and abusing his fellow citizens. His second project in the director’s chair, Irresistible, takes on the subject of campaign finance and all the legalities and loopholes that allow elections to be an industry unto themselves.
Steve Carell stars as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic political consultant with a lengthy track record who is still stinging from Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat in 2016. He’s looking for a new way to connect to the “heartland voter” and a small town in Wisconsin is brought to his attention when a town hall meeting goes viral on YouTube, The town is planning to pass some bylaws that will affect immigrants and a retired Marine colonel, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), defends them and their contributions to their new home. Zimmer sees progressive values being espoused by a tough Marine veteran and heads to the town to convince Hastings to run for mayor. It may be a small potatoes campaign compared to what he usually runs but he sees it as a way to test ideas and messages that can be used to woo a segment of voters back to the Democratic fold. Zimmer’s work does not go unnoticed by the Republicans, who send their own consultant, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to help the incumbent mayor in the race.
Carell’s Zimmer is a consultant whose most recent loss has broken him and he just needs a win. He’s intelligent but blissfully unaware of how to deal with people as he’s so far into the machine that he just sees them as policies, votes and campaign ad extras. Byrne captures the effortless ability to spin and lie and then spin the lie. Her character would be almost be a caricature if we hadn’t seen her likes on our TVs for the past few years. Chris Cooper continues his streak of grounding his characters — dramatic or comedic — in a reality that just has us accepting them as someone we know.
Irresistible pokes at the whole election industry where the candidate is subservient to the pollsters, the messaging people, the special interests groups, and the fundraisers. It may be a small town race but Zimmer brings in the whole machine, from a computer-laden war room to a plethora of analysts (led by Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne) who don’t see citizens but rather subjects that fit demographic and psychographic profiles. Not to be outdone, the GOP’s Brewster matches Zimmer step for step. Hastings’ daughter (Mackenzie Davis) acts both as the bemused observer and the critical eye, protecting her father and dragging Zimmer for his cynical treatment of the electorate and the steps he’ll take to woo them.
The media doesn’t escape Stewart’s attention either. They’re ridiculed for the way they cover politics like a sport, looking at the spectacle and ignoring the questions and issues that might actually make a change in the lives of the voters. Fox News is shown as cheerleading and fawning over the GOP candidate while demonizing Hastings as a possible ISIS member. CNN’s endless panels are ridiculed as one host tries to manage a split screen of possibly a dozen pundits.
Stewart does manage to get us to feel the despair that the voters’ involvement in the process is just theatre and the decisions are preordained by consultants, pundits and donors. Looking at Stewart’s past editorials, I was expecting him to go after his targets with laser-guided precision, but he instead uses a pretty broad brush and almost gets close to creating a sweet, gentle look at election corruption. Zimmer goes through the usual big city guy in a small town tropes, while Brewster is a GOP cartoon. Oh wait, Brewster is exactly what we see on Fox. Never mind. Given the ugly, divisive nature of politics these days, I was expecting Irresistible to be a little darker, a little more cut-throat, but perhaps Stewart didn’t want to add to the poisonous environment. Given how polarized society is, I imagine Stewart will be preaching to the choir as people from across the aisle will not be watching.