Jon Stewart’s “Irresistible” is a noble effort that requires a great deal of patience. A modern piece of Capracorn, this broadside aimed at our current political arena premieres with the odds stacked against it. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s tired of the contentious nature of the modern political landscape. What with the constant partisan bickering, the problematic moral stance of so many elected officials and the frustration that results from witnessing a system that claims to represent that electorate but seems to only benefit politicians and lobbyists, the last thing I, and I suspect many others, want to do is sit through a movie in which its two main characters are duplicitous, amoral opportunists.
As I said, Stewart is doing himself no favors with his cast of characters and the timing of the film’s release; yet, in the end, “Irresistible” proves worth the time and effort required to get through it. His solid cast is enticement enough to watch it, and while I can’t give away any specific details, it contains a third-act twist that leads to a pointed statement about the state of our union that couldn’t be more timely. That I wished it were delivered with a bit more fury, I’ll chalk up to my own personal feelings.
Steve Carell impresses as Gary Zimmer, a political strategist who’s still stinging from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, a campaign he spearheaded. Looking to redeem himself in the upcoming presidential election, he’s taking no chances in covering all of his bases on both the national and local fronts. As such, he takes an interest in a farmer in Deerlaken, Wis., named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper). A Marine Corps veteran, this unassuming hero makes a name for himself when video footage of him standing up for the downtrodden at a local city council meeting goes viral. Sensing a possible grassroots candidate in the making, Zimmer heads out to convince Hastings to run for mayor of his local burg, reasoning that this will bring a groundswell of Democratic voters to the polls who will then vote for the party’s presidential candidate as well. Not to be outdone, and realizing exactly what her rival is up to, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) shows up in Deerlaken to promote the incumbent mayor.
Much of the initial humor is out of the Capra playbook as we see the jaded city folk flummoxed by the down-home charm and kindness from the simple country bumpkins they’re forced to deal with. To Stewart’s credit, he never plays the citizens of Deerlaken for fools, making sure to present them as honest people whose sense of morality hasn’t been corrupted. These moments are effective but don’t last long. Stewart’s purpose is to focus on the underhanded methods used to manipulate the media and confuse voters, and while this is noble, it cuts too close to the bone at the present moment to play for laughs. The lies Zimmer and Brewster serve up to make their candidates shine fail as jokes and do nothing but elicit disgust.
Stewart nearly manages to pull the film out of the fire with a third-act twist that’s inspired. While it effectively skewers the vagaries of campaign financing and media spin, ultimately, it lacks conviction. The sort of feel-good climax Stewart offers up may have worked in the ‘30’s, but it falls flat. Viewers are far too jaded and knowledgeable to embrace the false hope offered up here, tempted as they might be to do so. “Irresistible” does contain a vital message; however, its pollyanna-ish solution to the problems that plague us simply doesn’t hold water.