It'll probably go down as the most disappointing movie of 2020, as if this year needed anything more to be disappointed about
Since Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show” after 15 years in 2015, he’s left a hole in the public discourse that many (myself included) have sorely missed.
The comedian’s ability to skewer both ends of the political spectrum, as well as his talents as an interviewer, made him a sort of unwitting news anchor for a chunk of the nation. And he was also good at pointing out when a comedy show was doing a better job of keeping its viewers informed than some 24-hour news networks.
Stewart returns with his second movie as a director, a political farce coming out in an election year that seemed right in Stewart’s wheelhouse. Which is why “Irresistible” will probably go down as the most disappointing movie of 2020, as if this year needed anything more to be disappointed about.
An opening sequence interjects two fictional characters into the 2016 presidential election: a Democratic political operative named Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) running the Hillary Clinton campaign, and his counterpart on the Trump campaign, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne).
After the stunning results of that election (spoiler: Trump still wins), Zimmer finds himself licking his political wounds until someone sends him video of an impassioned defense of immigrants from a former Marine colonel and rural Wisconsin farmer named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper).
In that farmer, Zimmer cynically sees a way to get his mojo back and work on how Democrats can be better at reaching rural (white) voters. So he heads to a small, mostly conservative town in Wisconsin to convince Hastings to run for mayor. And then the full weight and absurdity of the political consultant class descends on this tiny race.
“Irresistible” touches on themes that have long been close to Stewart: the corrupting power of money in our political system and a political class that’s lost touch with vast segments of citizens.
But his broad “both sides” attack feels like a movie from a different time, in that it ignores the real consequences of who wins these political games. In the midst of a pandemic and a fresh look at our nation’s ongoing systemic racism, this feels more than a little tone-deaf at the moment.
Carell’s Zimmer is an out-of-touch elitist buffoon, unnecessarily asshole-ish toward the townsfolk who are portrayed in a positive light, but still as caricatures.
There’s some irony in Stewart lampooning coastal elite thinking while also creating his own kind of Mayberry in Wisconsin where he tries to get ironic laughs by having rural folks who know the difference between a metaphor and a simile.
“Irresistible” hops around and never quite can decide on a tone, but the most surprising thing given the talents involved is that it’s just not very funny. Only Byrne really succeed in taking a thin character and making something of it.
And at a time when an election looms that could decide the fate of the democracy, this sort of cynicism couldn’t be more wrong for the moment.