Movie review: Jon Stewart’s ‘Irresistible’ is an enticing political comedy
Is a political comedy what we need right now, when everything political is in constant turmoil, with no end - not even a party change in November - in sight? Oh, yes! Let’s please have more of them, especially if they’re at all similar to what Jon Stewart has done here in his second go-around at writing and directing a feature film.
His first, “Rosewater,” in 2014, was also political, but it was a grueling, sometimes brutal true story of a journalist who was locked up in Iran under charges of espionage. Maybe it was something the politically astute Stewart needed to get out of his system.
With “Irresistible,” we get the Stewart most of us know and dig from his “Daily Show” days - a smart, satirical stab against the political establishment. His script is, at once, both a little silly and quite biting.
The terrific opening credits offer bits and pieces of the buildup to and fallout from the 2016 presidential election, and introduces us to Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell), a political strategist working for Hillary, and to his counterpart Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), strategizing for Trump. Moments into the film, Gary finds himself licking his wounds, wondering what to do next.
It’s safe to say that Jon Stewart knows his politics, as do these two characters, and the resulting story is only slightly far-fetched. Due to the way it unfolds and to how the cast makes it feel that they’re really living their roles, most of “Irresistible” is completely believable.
The central story begins in the fictional town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin. The rural community is reeling from the closure of a military base, with businesses being boarded up left and right. Local farmer and former Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) - about as apolitical a man as you could find - is giving a passionate speech at a local town hall, sticking up for some local folks who are hurting. He’s caught on video, the video goes viral, and it comes to the attention of Gary, who likes what he sees, and is champing at the bit to get back in the game.
The plan is to visit the deep red state of Wisconsin, introduce himself to Jack, get him to run as a Democrat in the local mayor’s race, beat the Republican incumbent, and expand the Democratic base ... and earn back any points he lost in the national election.
If this sounds a bit serious for a comedy, don’t worry. It comes around, fairly quickly. Gary is a sharp fellow, who does his job well, but he’s not used to working in situations that are “below his standards.” “What do you mean you don’t have Wi-Fi,” he wonders when he arrives in town. After convincing Jack to get in the race, a TV ad he puts together refers to the candidate as being “a redder kind of blue.” In assembling a staff of volunteers, Gary discovers that while they’re nice folks, they’re rubes compared to who he usually works with.
When the Republican National Committee gets wind of this threat to their red state, they send Faith- as cool an operator as Gary - to town to even the playing field, and the story switches gears to become a competition between the consultants, both of whom are fish out of water in Wisconsin, which adds to the comedy.
The plot picks up steam through another character, Jack’s daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis), recently back from college, and wanting to help her widower dad through all of this craziness.
The small-town race garners national attention after money starts pouring in from both the DNC and the RNC, from big-city fundraisers, and from newly formed Political Action Committees. Things get intriguing, things turn nasty, and newer and “better” campaign strategies take hold as election day approaches.
One of the best things about the film is that it’s not at all partisan. Yes, the Democrats are portrayed as the story’s “good guys” - at least that’s what the characters believe. But it’s really much more about the fact that the whole political system is screwed up. Another great component is the presence of Steve Carrell, whose acting style is perfect for this sort of role, and who shares a lot of comic sensibilities with Stewart from Carrell’s days as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.”
One warning: There’s lots of casual cursing. One suggestion: Stay for the end credits. They’re even better than the opening ones.
“Irresistible” premieres on streaming platforms on June 26.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.
Written and directed by Jon Stewart
With Steve Carrell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis