By Elias Savada.
Entertainer Jon Stewart has been pissed off at a lot of things, but I suspect nothing riles him more than two words: Citizens United. During his years hosting The Daily Show he would rant and rave (and, out of necessity, joke) with innumerable guests about the influence of money interests in the political process, the rise of SuperPACs to offer “guidance” in the American election system, and the devastating Supreme Court decision upholding the ability for corporations and other entities to directly advocate for and against candidates.
Stewart has rightfully claimed that both major political parties are driven by monied interests in muddied waters, having told Bernie Sanders in 2011 “that pollution is spread out through the whole river,” although the common consensus is that the Republican Party, especially its right wing conservatives, have the backing of powerful and corporate interests that can hide behind the Citizens United wall of secrecy.
Stewart, retired since 2015 from his Comedy Central career, has fought a very good fight on behalf of 9/11 first responders, got into a Twitter fight with then-candidate Donald Trump (in which the comedian lightheartedly suggested Trump had changed his name from “Fuckface Von Clownstick”), and now has produced, directed, and written his second feature (after 2014’s Rosewater), a comedy of sorts, full of satire but short of real laughs.
Stewart’s film tries to make fun of how Big Money can be used for all the wrong reasons. Irresistible is a fictious tale of a smarmy Democrat political consultant who indulges his big city techniques on small town USA. Spurred by a viral YouTube video “Hero Marine Stands Up for Immigrants” in the aftermath of the Democrat defeat in the 2016 election, Gary Zwimmer (Steve Carell) decides he needs to help Deerlaken, a small, no-nothing town in the swing state of Wisconsin, with its mayoral election. Interestingly the movie was shot in Georgia, a state that saw an unprecedented $55 million spent on an off-year congressional election in 2017. Carell, bruised from the poor critical reaction to his Netflix series Space Force, hopes to hit the right target with the film, but I fear his character is just not that likeable for most viewers, particularly in this time of real election turmoil (among everything else!), to gain the sympathy vote. And the script shows how dated its can be in just the blink of an eye when Carell’s character seems oblivious to the Black and Latino contingent (as exemplified, quite oddly, by Debra Messing, who is anything but Latino) of the Democratic National Committee.
Rose Byrne plays Gary’s Republican archrival Faith Brewster. She gets less cut-throat time than he does, and the film never quite evolves into something even remotely romantic between the stars (except for an awkward end credit sequence, one of several that suggest Stewart didn’t know how to tie up his screenplay’s loose strings), but they often do get quite verbally down and dirty.
Retired marine colonel and local farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) apparently has a beef with Walt Braun, the long-time Republican incumbent, about tight money in the municipal budget after a local military base closed and the town’s population shriveled by two-thirds. For the self-serving Zwimmer, it’s the “key back into the forbidden city,” which I presume is Washington DC. As he charter jets into America’s Dairyland, he watches footage of Brett Favre, reads the Wikipedia entry for Wisconsin, and peruses a local newspaper, but it doesn’t seem to help with his “fish out of water” arrival in rural America, where running jokes splatter like road kill, among them his misguided belief that everyone drinks Budweiser beer (why not use a Milwaukee brew?) and has a burger at the local Hofbrau, or that wifi exists everywhere. Gary’s incessant requests with the local yokels cater to his upper middle class accoutrements (Tesla, Caprese salad, king size bed, etc.), and don’t earn more than a begrudging chuckle. For craft beer lovers like myself, I did snicker when the big city slicker feigned to savor the beer by sniffing the “aroma” from the bottle! Still, I found this type of humor both cloying and annoying as it repeats throughout the film.
Occasionally there’s some of the flustered Dunder Mifflin/The Office fun lightening up the bleariness, when Gary tries to direct cows during a reluctant candidate introduction. And a few times Stewart’s characters seem to break away from the script, although they don’t cut through the fourth wall. These fanciful moments (one involves telling the media that “we lie to you” and worse) don’t really help with Stewart’s meandering script, which, as quickly as it diverts from political reality, snaps back to his midwestern fantasy world.
Insert a few overproduced, super-sized campaign spots and watch Gary’s too blissful thoughts smell absolute victory, which is what he is craftily made to believe. The natives suffer under his contempt for small town life and the mushrooming tactics that turn the small town election into an oversized affair. And, ultimately, it is ALL about the money, because Jon Stewart wrote and directed this thing.
CNN and MSNBC cover the antics, including a Zoom style gathering of a dozen pundits who all speak over one another, but Stewart also pokes much needed fun at the imbecilic folks that populate Fox News (Desi Lydec, a regular on The Daily Show, nails it as one of the bimbo analysts). Although Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzeskinski are credited as themselves, I think their footage was cut.
Others in the cast include Mackenzie Davis as Diana, Hastings’ wise-beyond-her-years 20-something daughter, Bill Irwin as a near-senile billionaire outfitted in a mechanically assisted exo-skeleton, and Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne as high-tech campaign pollsters and organizers.
Should you find yourself watching Irresistible, don’t turn off your stream before the end credits finish. Midway through an off-screen Stewart interviews Trevor Potter, his longtime friend and the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, with a breezy civics lesson.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).