Irresistible is a clever and comedic commentary on the disconnect between today’s political parties and the people they swear to serve.
After stepping down from hosting The Daily Show in 2015, Jon Stewart has mostly stayed away from the spotlight ever since. With a sudden surplus of free time, many wondered how Stewart would now be spending his days. Was he doubling down on deeds of activism? Was he working on writing a new novel? Or, was he covertly concocting a comeback in cinema? Though Stewart formerly flaunted a flair for filmmaking with his well-received 2014 directorial debut Rosewater, it took six years for him to settle down and shape a sophomore feature. After a hiatus that lasted over half a decade, Stewart has finally presented the public with his “prescient” political satire Irresistible, and the result is just as tantalizing as the title indicates.
Irresistible begins as Gary Zimmer, a scheming Democratic political strategist (Steve Carell, of The 40-Year Old Virgin and Despicable Me) catches a compelling video clip of a retired Marine colonel named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper, of Adaptation and American Beauty) giving a stirring speech in defense of undocumented workers in the small right-wing town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Feeling defeated as a result of his work on Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, Zimmer hatches a plan to secure supporters for the party in the now swing state of Wisconsin by driving down to Deerlaken and convincing this compassionate, concerned citizen to campaign against the town’s incumbent Republican mayor in the upcoming election. In Zimmer’s eyes, if he’s able to make Democrats out of these “Deerlakians,” this could be the start of the left’s rise to reclaim Midwestern voters who felt forgotten four years prior. However, when the GOP hears word of the DNC doubling down on their newly discovered dedication to Deerlaken, they send in the ferocious firecracker Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne, of Bridesmaids and Neighbors) to help Hastings’ rival and defeat the Democrats, elevating this seemingly innocent election into a political pandemonium.
It’s impossible to overstate the tremendous timeliness of a tale like this, and Irresistible’s release in a contentious election year is certainly no coincidence. Stewart smartly starts his story with audial and visual recaps of the fallout following Donald Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton on November 9, 2016, reminding viewers of the discomfort and distress brought about by that Democratic defeat. Furthermore, Clinton has long been criticized for almost outright ignoring the industrial Midwest by pushing aside Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin on the campaign trail and taking these voters for granted (leading to a “break” in the “blue wall” on the evening of the election) and Stewart comprehensively chronicles these critiques in his coverage as well.
This painful prologue adds a supplemental significance to Irresistible by incorporating relevant, real-world issues into Stewart’s “fictional” fable; we already know how lousy Clinton’s loss felt, and we are aware of her team’s terrible trip-ups, so Stewart shrewdly uses the emotions associated with these events to immediately evoke initial investment from audiences. His framing helps the film form a foundation in reality, and as a result, Zimmer’s plan feels right at place with present-day Democratic platforms and proposals.
It’s continuously noted that the “coastal elites” have lost touch with the average, everyday citizens of this country, and Irresistible displays that droll disconnect through conventional city-slicker Zimmer’s ill-advised attempts at appealing to the “Deerlakians” and selling his snobbish shtick in a small town. This “fish-out-of-water” foolery is frequently farcical and fun, and even if the humor seems a bit “simple” for Stewart’s sensibilities, his spoofs are still as sharp as ever. Now, Zimmer isn’t exactly the most inviting individual to be around, and though he is the de facto “protagonist” of the piece, he can come across as petulant and patronizing at times. Nevertheless, if anyone can make this establishment exhibitionist engaging, it’s the stupendous Steve Carell, who never shies away from his character’s conceit but refuses to turn this snooty strategist into a simple-minded stereotype either. Some cracks may come across as a bit too cartoon-y, but these flubs are few and far between, and for the most part, Carell’s Zimmer is able to sufficiently serve his purpose as both a silly star and as a symbol for the shallowness of some of those with power in either major political party.
Carell is backed by a stellar supporting cast, all of whom carry their weight and deliver reliably wonderful work. Cooper is as committed and charming as ever as the well-meaning former marine who sets all this mania into motion (and continually calls out the callousness of this country’s charlatans), and while Mackenzie Davis’ (Tully, Terminator: Dark Fate) role isn’t much deeper than “Jack’s devoted daughter,” she injects some necessary heart and humanity into the film nonetheless. There are also some short but sweet scenes with Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne that stand out and amuse, but Rose Byrne really just blows past all her co-stars as a remarkably rotten Republican strategist (reminiscent of Kellyanne Conway) that Zimmer constantly can’t escape. It’s well known at this point that Byrne has a commanding capability with comedy, but she always finds a way to further sharpen her skills, and her sinister sense of sarcasm here is simply stunning.
Irresistible truly takes off in its third act, when Stewart’s grander ambitions are announced, and this supposedly straightforward story switches into something more meditative and meaningful. Riveting revelations cause one to completely reconsider everything they’ve just seen, and Stewart’s sly structuring is sufficiently showcased. We’re left with a powerful – and pressing – pondering on the priorities of our political parties, and we witness how they’ve been using us to achieve their own aims, when in reality, it should be the other way around. These scrumptious surprises are best left unspoiled, but for those who worry that Irresistible is too “safe” or “surface-level,” know that it has more than a few thrilling tricks and twists up its sleeve.
Some may argue that Irresistible isn’t “saying anything new” or that its analysis of American politics is “archaic,” but even if Stewart doesn’t have any overly innovative insight to add to today’s dire discourse, he’s repackaged timeless topics into a lovely little lark that makes us laugh and learn, at the same time. The issues addressed here still affect us to this day, and Stewart has admirably authored an analysis that appeals to modern-day audiences as both entertainment and as enlightenment, which is no small feat. Irresistible is bound to ruffle a few feathers, but for those who can withstand the searing swipes, they’ll be exposed to an enriching and educational experience.
Irresistible is now available to watch in theaters and on demand.
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