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VOD Review: Irresistible

June 26, 2020

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Written and directed by Jon Stewart, who left late night television to become a filmmaker, Irresistible is a political satire that is set in the current moment but feels curiously out of step.

The film opens with audio of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton going at each other during one of the presidential debates, before introducing us to our protagonists, Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carroll) and Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), as they speak to reporters afterwards.

What comes next is a title card that reads “Election Day 2016” immediately followed by footage of a man getting hit in the stomach with a cannon ball. It’s not an entirely bad way to start the film, and certainly does get Stewart’s point across right off the bat, albeit in a very in your face sort of way.

As we all know, the 2016 election was a devastating blow for Democrats, and a big part of the reason why is because they ignored mostly rural, swing state voters and lost them to Trump. Gary is left demoralized by Trump’s win, but starts to envision a future path to victory for the Democrats when someone in his office shows him a video of retired veteran Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) passionately railing against cuts to the food stamps program at a town hall meeting in Deerlaken, Wisconsin.

Gary travels to the fictional small town of Deerlaken and hatches a plan to have Jack run for mayor as a Democrat, hoping to unseat popular Republican incumbent Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). The hope is that embracing an older, moderate veteran in a local race will help the Democrats appeal more to Middle America as a whole. Gary becomes obsessed with getting Jack elected mayor, viewing him as the “future of the Democratic Party,” but a series of challenges stand in his way, including the reemergence of his rival Faith.

Faith is a one-note caricature of a blonde, smooth-talking conservative woman who wears nice clothes, is always on her phone, and plays fast and loose with the truth. We meet her in the opening scene but she doesn’t reappear again until partway through, and she is denied any sort of character development. But, to be fair, even Gary is fairly thinly written as a protagonist. The thing about Gary is that, despite being played by Carell, a very likeable actor, he isn’t exactly a likeable character. He’s actually somewhat of a condescending dick to the locals, and this is sort of the whole point.

The film is mocking the liberal elitists who try to impose their views on Middle America while making no secret of the fact that they view rural voters as lesser-then; rubes who can’t think for themselves, don’t know what’s best for them, and need to be brought in line. In one of the film’s best scenes, Gary flies Jack to New York for a fundraiser at a swanky Manhattan apartment, where the irony of the fact that most of the money for a local mayoral race is coming from out of state is not lost on him.

Stewart, a rich liberal, is of course mocking his own in this regard, but Irresistible itself draws heavily upon small town stereotypes and at times feels pretty condescending. There is an admittedly satisfying twist near the end that takes the film in a far more interesting direction, allowing us to glimpse a much more cynical version of this movie that could have existed had Stewart decided to take more risks earlier on. But while the film ends up somewhere intriguing, much of it instead plays out as a stale fish-out-of-water comedy about a slick big city hot shot learning from the locals in a small town.

Moments that feel like outtakes or deleted scenes are left in, and there is a sketch comedy feel to some of it. The film’s most pointed statement, which is that the news media whips people into a partisan frenzy of left versus right in order to get views and to distract from the much larger issue of the corrupting power of money in politics, comes over the closing credits. It’s a message that should be amplified, but the fact that the film only starts to really find its teeth at the end means that it lacks bite for much of the running time.

Furthermore, the idea that a straight, white, gun-toting male over sixty would be seen as the “future” of the Democrats, especially in the current moment, is one of the most outdated aspects of the film, but I digress. At the end of the day, Irresistible is not exactly a terrible movie, just a frustratingly inconsistent one. The film has some enjoyable moments and there are glimpses of a much sharper satire revealed throughout, but they are buried in a conventional, out of date package that too often feels blunted and stale instead of sharp.

Irresistible is now available to rent as of today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, for the premium price of $19.99.

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