Written and Directed by: Jon Stewart
Length: 101 Minutes
Raring: (R for language including sexual references)
Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne and Bill Irwin
Irresistible stars Steve Carell as a Democratic Party strategist named Gary who sees YouTube video of retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) making an impassioned plea for the rights of his small Wisconsin town’s undocumented workers. Gary travels to Wisconsin to persuade Hastings to run for mayor and hopefully turn him into the kind of media darling that will help win back heartland voters who flipped for Trump in 2016. The laughs come in, or at least Jon Stewart intended them to, when Gary’s east coast brand of liberalism clashes with heartland residents.
I must admit, whether it’s in movies or essays or cable new segments, I’ve grown tired the last few years of this kind of hand-wringing over how the Democratic party lost heartland voters in 2016. Just reading the premise before watching the film made me roll my eyes a bit, but I had quite a bit of good will towards Stewart and hoped he would bring some fresh ideas to this story. In places, he does. While feature length screenwriting exposes his strengths (comedic bits) and weaknesses (structuring a nearly two hour movie), there are a handful of genuinely funny moments. The best bit involves the accidental delivery of pro-abortion brochures to a convent. The build up to that moment and its revelation are perfect.
Unfortunately, Stewart often struggles with what he wants the focus and the message of his film to be. At times, it seems like he is crafting an indictment of the DNC’s often condescending behavior towards the heartland. Yet at others, when he feels it might result in a laugh, he adopts the condescending attitude. For instance, one joke (if you want to call it that) involves Gary having difficulty connecting to the internet at campaign headquarters. The only connection available is dial up, and then a local woman alerts him to one place in town where “kids hang out and play games.” That place has Wi-Fi, she tells us. Then we cut to an image of the local school. What was the purpose of the writing there? Are we supposed to believe this woman is stupid enough not to know that this place is called a school?
For his part, Carell annoyed me from the first to the last frame. I get that Gary is supposed to be a jerk. But Carell has two modes in his comedy roles, and which one gets used depends on the writing. He can deliver cringe comedy that’s still funny, or, when the script leans in to his worst tendencies, he can just make you cringe non-stop without providing a single laugh. This performance falls into the latter category.
(MAJOR SPOILER BEYOND THIS POINT)
I do have to give Stewart some credit for the film’s very late in the game plot twist. It is revealed that Hastings, his daughter, the sitting mayor and the rest of the residents (none of whom vote in the election) are all in on a plot to gain media attention and generate donations (which do not have to be returned) in order to save various institutions in the town that had fallen into financial hardship.
That commentary on the ludicrous system of campaign finance laws is a winner, but it can’t save the film due to Stewart’s desire to shock the audience with the reveal. I think this story would have benefited from a lot less screen time for Gary and a plot that let the audience in on this scam sooner. Structuring the story that way also would have allowed more screen time for Hastings. I enjoyed Chris Cooper in this role, and most of the scenes that work belong to him. Ultimately, there’s a few good ideas in Irresistible, but a lack of focus drowns them out in favor of a most forced and obnoxious brand of political humor.