During his stint on The Daily Show
from 1999 to 2015, Jon Stewart routinely proved himself to be one of the funniest and smartest men on television. Now, with his new political comedy Irresistible
, writer-director Stewart proves that he can make a likable satire of our current electoral climate (as if there was any doubt), but that he needs to tell his story with a slightly less obvious tone should he go back to the genre. There's a fine cast and some good points made, but he's playing it a little safe here, and not being quite as cutting as I know he can be.
The point that Stewart seems to be making here is that both sides, Republicans and Democrats, are guilty of the exact same dirty tricks, and will do just about anything to win. Don't alert the media on that one, folks. He takes aim at the current culture of politics, and how it is all about "talking heads" on the TV spinning the story, and how money controls everything. Again, not exactly new revelations, but you keep on hoping that Stewart might have a trick or two up his sleeve. There's an early scene where two strategists, one for the Democrats (Stewart's former Daily Show
alum Steve Carell) and the other for the Republicans (Rose Byrne, sharply funny here), break from their usual talking points, and flat-out tell the media that they are lying to the American people on a regular basis. Carell even signs off his speech by saying, "F-you, America". We get what Stewart is trying to say and do with this scene, but it's a bit awkward, as the scene doesn't fit anywhere in the movie. Is it a fantasy sequence? A dream? It just plays out, and then the movie completely forgets about it. It's like an unconnected sketch from the rest of the film.
Once the movie settles into a consistent tone, things improve, though again, the movie is never quite as biting as the audience might be expecting. Carell plays Gary Zimmer, who after spiraling into a depression from the results of Election Night November 2016, is ready to be back on his game in preparations for 2020. Gary is looking for a non-traditional Democratic candidate, someone who can appeal to the small town rural communities who routinely vote Republican. He thinks he's found his man when one of his staff shows him a viral video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a former Marine, single dad and farmer from the small Wisconsin town of Deerlaken. In the video, Jack is making an impassioned speech about freedom and doing what's right when it looks like the town's Mayor is going to make it more difficult for immigrants to vote in the next election. To Gary, Jack looks like the very model of what he's looking for. Someone with Americana charm, but ideals that appeal to the Left. As Gary says, "He's a Democrat, he just doesn't know it yet".
Gary flies over to Deerlaken, where he hopes to woo Jack into running for Mayor. Cue the expected gags of the guy from Washington D.C. trying to fit in with the simple, small town folks, and not doing a very good job of it. When he tracks down Hastings at his farm, the steely and firm man is reluctant about Gary's proposal, but eventually agrees only if Gary will run the campaign from top to bottom. The town that Jack hails from is the kind of place that has seen most of its jobs disappear over time, and desperately needs a shot in the arm. With Gary's help, Jack's campaign gains national attention, which of course is the whole point. Gary wants the Republicans to notice what he's doing. Naturally, they do, and they send their own strategist Faith Brewster (Byrne) to the town in order to take over the incumbent Mayor's (Brent Sexton) campaign. It turns into a competition of who can raise the most money, get the most donors, and basically use every facet of the town to their advantage in the battle for votes.
Though flawed, Irresistible
comes to vibrant life every time Carell and Byrne share the screen to the point that you wish they did it more here. They're hilarious whether they're trading barbs on live TV, or doing the same thing from their hotel rooms, which are right next to each other and have paper thin walls. Cooper is also excellent as Jack, who seems to hold an old-fashioned American spirit, and only wants to make things better for his adult daughter (Mackenzie Davis). Everyone is great here, you just wish that Stewart's material was a bit less on the nose. He throws in some small laughs (I liked it when Carell and his team have to resort to sitting in a car outside of the high school in order to use their computer equipment, because it's the only spot in town with WiFi.), but not the big or biting ones that we have come to know from him. He's making a nice little comedy here, and that's fine. But with this kind of talent, I kind of wanted him to aim higher.
Still, what's here does work well enough. I guess I had bigger expectations walking in because I know what Stewart is capable of. During his years on his comedy news show, he shook up a lot of politicians and political norms. Here, he's making a likable but kind of obvious take on political greed. It's nice and all, but I personally expected more than just likable.