Politics makes people cynical. Jon Stewart spent 15 years eviscerating the elected officials who made our lives hell on The Daily Show. But somehow he's still an optimist. That means Irresistible is the work of someone who's tremendously out of step with the current moment.
Steve Carell plays Gary, an arrogant Democratic operative who travels to rural Wisconsin to recruit Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor after a video of him ranting against a proposed racist law goes viral. Despite the small stakes, Gary sees this as his road back to the big time after working on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Just a few days after getting Jack's campaign off the ground, Gary's Republican rival Faith (Rose Byrne) barrels through to fund the campaign of the incumbent (Brent Sexton). And just like that, this tiny race is attracting national attention and an obscene amount of donor money.
The time and current climate are certainly right for a satire about our disastrous, corrupt electoral process. When it's done right, you end up with something strong like The Candidate, Bulworth and Primary Colors. But Irresistible, with its obvious points and aw-shucks characters, is more like Swing Vote, a facile, self-congratulatory piece of work. One of the most painful parts of Irresistible is the townspeople all speak normally, but any time they're interviewed or discussed on cable news shows (which use real network logos but fictional anchors), the "media" says exactly the point Stewart is trying to make. "Don't we have a responsibility to report the facts and not speculate?" one MSNBC anchor asks. It seems like Stewart misses showing clips of cable news getting it wrong and then correcting them with a joke and sly smile.
But Stewart also fails in basic filmmaking. This is his second film, after the docudrama Rosewater, about the torture and imprisonment of one of Stewart's guests by Iranian authorities. Whatever urgency that film had is lacking here. Stewart doesn't create a single compelling character. These are all good actors doing their best with a script that hangs them out to dry. At best, they're supposed to be mouthpieces for Stewart's POV. He also oddly chooses to recycle his own needle drops, using Bob Seger's "Still the Same" during the opening credits and Jack's debate prep montage. He compliments that by using Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" for both Jack and Gary's drives into town, just to underline that we're about to head into rural America.
What's most frustrating about Irresistible is none of the townspeople have any definable political viewpoints. There could have been a healthy debate on any number of topics, but all they seem to agree on is their distress at businesses and the local military base closing. But there's absolutely no context on what led to that. There's no discussion about the political decisions made at the local, state, and federal levels that let this community wither and die. This all culminates in an absurd, last-minute twist that seems clever at first glance but doesn't hold up to the least bit of scrutiny.
Irresistible, despite its many great performers, is all too easy to resist.
*This film is currently available via On-Demand platforms.