From the outset, Jon Stewart and Steve Carell seem like a formidable pair to spur the nation to save itself. After all, one has a history of aplomb political commentary while the other carries a reputation for turning the jerks he plays into reflections of our most deplorable traits. Unfortunately, Stewart follows his directorial debut “Rosewater” with the heavily diluted “Irresistible,” a political satire with momentary brilliance that overshoots salient points made by sharper minds. The final stretch vacillates between M. Night Shyamalan curve balls and egocentric wish fulfillment, though Stewart’s ambitious swipe at Middle America’s masochistic tendencies is worth the headache.
Carell does a fitting caricature of a cutthroat Washington, D.C. political consultant. As one of the key strategists behind Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign, Carell’s Gary Zimmer looks to make a big comeback from humble beginnings. He finds this in Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a former marine colonel-turned-farmer from fictional Deerlaken, Wisconsin. The war veteran becomes a national sensation after a video of him vocalizing immigrant support goes viral. According to Stewart, if there’s one thing that can change ignorant minds in rural America, it’s an old conservative white male with a savior complex. Zimmer agrees and comes up with a plan for Hastings to run for mayor, hoping to create an early spark of “blue wave” revolution in this Republican-controlled domain.
Much to Zimmer’s chagrin, a Kellyanne Conway-inspired rival strategist named Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) travels from her White House palace to stop the insurrection. Through her oversight, the Republican party funnels millions into the incumbent mayor’s reelection campaign. Even with Super-PACs in his corner, Zimmer knows he’s merely David’s sandal facing an unbeatable Goliath. Still, he remains inspired by Hastings’ natural townsfolk appeal. However, an inappropriate crush on Hastings’ daughter Diana (MacKenzie Davis) blinds him to obstacles he might not be able to spin his way out of.
Insightful comedic bits land whenever Brewster and Zimmer are on air together, the media treating the pair like they are one and the same. There is no fact-checking Brewster’s outrageous claims. Instead, news corporations put on a neutral front that harms more than benefits. There is also an underlying air of superiority directed at working class voters from those within the DC circle. Despite fighting for issues down the party line, there’s an obvious personal disconnect from both Brewster and Zimmer that’s meant to expose a bigger problem with elected officials: politicians want to incentivize voters, not understand them. This dilemma offers potential lessons from the successful campaign the Obamas ran, but Stewart never brings the former First Family up in his cinematic sermon.
Ultimately, the narrative’s pervasive “whiteness” reduces the film’s “woke” angle into another megaphone of frustration with no solution. Failure to address concerns from minority groups makes Stewart’s crack at America’s self-sabotage problem a wasted cause. Moreover, some pandering ableist and racist humor is not only offensive, but completely out of touch with today’s social climate of being an ally to those most in need of uplifting. There are kernels of truth to be found in “Irresistible,” even hilarious spoonfuls from the compelling cast (especially from an underutilized Natasha Lyonne). Sadly, a valiant attempt at comprehending why Trump wields the power and base that he is does is simply that. One movie alone, even with good intentions, cannot solve a crisis that requires all voices to reverse the country’s draconian direction.