By John Hanlon
During his tenure as the host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart was oftentimes critiqued by some on the right for skewing conservatives more than he mocked liberals. It’s unlikely that he’ll face the same amount of criticism regarding his new film Irresistible, which delights in mocking both sides of the aisle. Unlike Rosewater, Stewart’s strong directorial debut that was based on a true story, this new film tells a fictional story about two competing campaigns.
Steve Carrell and Rose Bryne star here as two political consultants who descend on a small Wisconsin town. Carrell plays Gary Zimmer, a well-known Democratic strategist still inconsolable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign loss. He watches a viral video of farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), who stands up for immigration during a town hall meeting in Wisconsin. Longing to prove that Dems can stay competitive in small communities and in Wisconsin, Zimmer recruits Hastings as a candidate in an upcoming mayoral race.
Once the campaign is up and running, Republican operative Faith Brewster (Rose Bryne) arrives in town to help the incumbent mayor stave off his opponent.
The simple set-up gives writer/ director Jon Stewart the opportunity to make pointed points about the contemporary political system using the two consultants as prime examples of what’s wrong with politics today. The Democratic Zimmer is naïve and elitist while the Republican Brewster is cold and condescending.
These characters are caricatures in some way but their personalities — which oftentimes do feel realistic — offer a biting critique of contemporary consultants. Neither of the consultants care about the issues in the small community — in fact, there’s little mention of the policies at stake in the election — but they do care about winning. As the campaign goes on, the candidates themselves often fall into the background as the “experts” take over, turning the local campaign into a national referendum.
Stewart manages to wring a few solid laughs from this premise as he juxtaposes these over-caffeinated consultants with the residents of a small community. Zimmer may believe he fits into a small community but his actions suggest how out-of-touch he really is. Carrell does solid work in his role but it’s Bryne — whose character’s superficiality is so intrinsic it’s nearly part of her genetic code — who truly stands out. Although these characters are amusing to watch, the film oftentimes feels too cautious to be truly lough-out-loud funny.
In addition to critiquing self-important consultants, the script shows a willingness to mock the data-driven political campaigns that this country has now grown accustomed to. The targeting-obsessed supporting characters nicely played by Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne help make these points. Both of these characters supposedly understand what voters think about but they don't really comprehend what drives them.
Like on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, some of the biggest laughs come from a few scenes scrutinizing the media itself. A brief scene showing a cable network’s chaotic panel discussion, for one, hits the mark. Another scene showing the competing consultants debating the campaign while standing only a few feet apart also stands out.
Irresistible never succeeds as much as it could but there are a few laughs here. Even though there’s a undeniable political message in the third act, the film is more than just a partisan attempt at humor. The comedy finds ways to mock both sides of the aisle while showing how smart political analysts can easily lose sight of the policies and people at stake at the ballot box.