Actor and ex host of “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart returns with his second directorial effort “Irresistible”, produced by Brad Pitt. Jon Stewart gives us a sharp political satire that takes aim at the money, hype and competition mentality that drives our electoral system. While this is exactly the kind of genre that fans want from Stewart and being the films director, producer and screenwriter he gives us the movie we’d expect, but tweaks the genre in a clever fashion. Stars Steve Carell, Chris Cooper and Rose Byrne are all perfectly cast in one of the years best films that’s a timely and entertaining satire that gets the winning vote and wins a seat in the roster of winning political comedies. “Irresistible” feels like something that Garry Marshall might have given us in the 90s, while those familiar with Stewart’s reputation as a political advocate and his time on “The Daily Show” will recognize his brand of silly antics mixed with that serious political injection. Stewart has the filmmaking chops and he reinforces that here in a surprising comedy that is timely with the upcoming presidential race. Stewart has created a political film that people from all over America can find Irresistible. I found it to be a fun, smart, solid political comedy that is occasionally delightful. Don’t resist “Irresistible” and cast your vote for one of the years best films.
During the end of Jon Stewart’s run as the host of “The Daily Show” on comedy central. Stewart had decided to move on to bigger things and try his hand at directing movies. In 2014, he delivered “Rosewater”, which wasn’t the political comedy people were expecting from him, instead giving us a thriller that presented a stark look at an Iranian prison story. It was a creative leap for Stewart that didn’t attract the audience it deserved, but it established an interest in dodging audience expectations.
Five years later, Stewart is back with his second feature “Irresistible”. A sharp political satire that takes aim at the money, hype and competition (for competition’s sake) mentality that drives our electoral system. While this is exactly the kind of genre that fans want from Stewart and being the films producer and screenwriter he gives us the movie we’d expect, but yet giving us something we don’t quite expect.
Political comedies and dramas are a cinematic genre that can be historically a hit or miss. While I’m not a political advocate, I do enjoy political comedies. Of the many that I’ve seen, for the most part I’ve enjoyed most of them and they have all been great in their own ways. “Long Shot”, “Vice” and “The Campaign” are the ones I can immediately recall from the last few years, that have been great additions to the genre.
Jon Stewart’s “Irresistible” gets the winning vote and wins a seat in the roster of winning political comedies. It charms from the get-go, constructing a main title sequence that carries the cast and crews names, including producer Brad Pitt. All the while a montage explores the recent history of political campaigning, with it’s focus on major presidential candidates trying to win over small town communities, often through get togethers over local food and plenty of hand shaking.
The opening credits montage is scored to Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” and really captures the excitement of meet and greets, with each passing year showcasing less appealing candidates, ending up with the 2016 showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s proceeded with the election outcome being represented by the famous film of daredevil Frank Richards taking a cannonball to the gut. It’s the first of many of Jon Stewart’s visual gags and impish humor.
Obviously, Stewart knows this territory well, having spent 16 years presiding over “The Daily Show” and racking up twenty two Emmys for his time on the show. Stewart’s “Irresistible” isn’t a rip-roaring comedy, like the sharp writing of Barry Levinsin’s “Wag the Dog”, Mike Nichols “Primary Colors” or Warren Beatty’s “Bulworth”. It’s got more in line with Kevin Costner’s criminally under seen “Swing Vote” or the less than stellar “Welcome To Mooseport”, but thankfully “Irresistible” isn’t a disastrous wreck like “Welcome To Mooseport”. It’s one of the years best films that’s a timely and entertaining satire with one of the most likable casts of the year.
Veteran actor Chris Cooper plays Col. Jack Hastings, a single father in the small town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, whose town hall speech where the town council is about to approve an ordinance cutting off any type of financial aid or employment to illegal immigrants goes viral. His speech prompts a national political operative and specialist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) to persuade Jack to run for mayor. In a quietly commanding performance Chris Cooper is perfectly cast as the retired Marine who gets up every morning before dawn to do chores on his farm, being a loving father to his daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis), as he listens to Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” in his pickup truck.
Cut to Washington, D.C., where Steve Carell’s Gary Zimmer has just been humiliated by a devastating election loss and is looking to revive his career. This is where Gary treks to Deerlaken, to befriend the locals and convince Jack to run for mayor. After Jack reluctantly agrees to run for mayor, the national media shines a spotlight on the small town, as the madness escalates when Gary’s nemesis, the cunning GOP operative Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), swoops in to destroy Gary’s campaign.
Jon Stewart is an equal opportunity satirist, getting jabs at both political parties. In one scene Carell says “Jack is like Bill Clinton with better impulse control. Or like a churchgoing Bernie Sanders with better bone density!”. A lot of Stewart’s comedy comes from paying careful attention to the “heartland” setting, where a military base closure destroyed a town that’s now about to lose its high school.
Deerlaken is a town in terrible shape, but Stewart doesn’t pass on the potential for the “small town” humor. He positions Gary as a Washington D.C. power player coming into a modest community that doesn’t lock their doors at night, only supplies dial-up internet connections, offers the visitors cheery greetings and a baker who thinks she knows how Gary likes his coffee and makes delicious baked goods (the scene that Carell gets his first orgasmic contact with the local sweets is gloriously funny). Stewart has fun with focus groups, nun puns, a bionic rocket-man and a nice running gag that the same cranky old lady seems to witness all of Gary’s shameful moments.
Having the familiar narrative of a DC schmuck rubbing up against the folks of a cutesy town, initially feels like something that Garry Marshall might have given us in the 90s. Stewart also evokes Frank Capra’s 1939 classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, which clearly is an inspiration but so are sharp edged political satires such as the wonderfully underrated Kevin Costner comedy “Swing Vote” and particularly 1972’s “The Candidate” with Robert Redford that has much in common with what the Stewart is doing here.
It’s a much more relatively gentle indictment of the cynical, money driven political system then what you think you’d get from Stewart. His insightful screenplay takes Hollywood’s tendency to condescend to small-town America and tweaks it in clever fashion. With those familiar with Stewart’s reputation as a political advocate and from his time on “The Daily Show” will recognize his brand of silly antics mixed with a serious political injection.
There are no big heartfelt epiphanies, just pure cynicism and a huge dose of humor. Stewart’s film is clever and nuanced for the current climate in a year of “them against us” discussions. Stewart delivers a truthful look at a guy trying to match his own personal convictions in a career that requires sharp sensibilities. The legendary Jack Lemmon could have played him in the 70’s or 80’s, but Steve Carell strikes the right balance in making him a fully three-dimensional character.
Carell’s Gary represents everything wrong with American politics and yet we can’t help but like him even though he can come off as a jerk. I liked the fact that the aggressive, insincere and self-serving Gary is never really painted as the hero in his own story and that’s refreshing to see. The interplay between Rose Byrne and Carell is lots of fun to watch and they make you believe in their shared history and in the way it all comes to a head in a battle for the heart of the Heartland. Chris Cooper who always delivers is perfectly cast here. In the supporting cast is Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace as a pollster and Natasha Lyonne as an analytics whiz.
Stay for the credits where Stewart gets a little preachy and self-righteous, but that’s his thing. Stewart appears off camera meticulously interviewing the former commissioner and chairman of the FEC (Federal Election Commission), Trevor Potter. While not all of the film’s punches will land with everyone, its confidence in its characters and snappy dialogue makes for a decently thoughtful comedy.
Stewart has the filmmaking chops and he reinforces that here in a surprising comedy with a twist I never saw coming. “Irresistible” is timely with the upcoming presidential race and if you haven’t noticed by now, “Irresistible” shows how passionate he is about the election process. Stewart has created a political film that people from all over America, both rural and urban, can find Irresistible. I found it to be a fun, smart, solid political comedy that is occasionally delightful. Don’t resist “Irresistible” and cast your vote for one of the years best films.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)