Following a strong debut with Rosewater, Jon Stewart’s adaptation of journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir, it would appear the comedian/political pundit wanted to go for something lighter with Irresistible. In an attempt to provide a perspective on how some have reacted to the current Trump administration, it would seem there’s plenty of territory to go after, let alone ways for an acclaimed satirist to skewer the system. Alas, that’s not so much the case. Acting as a blend of workplace comedy, a fish out of water story, and a depiction of small-town politics, the balance never entirely comes together, nor is it aided by Steve Carell’s lead performance.
Carell stars as Gary, a top Democratic strategist, who has just come off a loss, given Trump’s victory over Hilary Clinton. When he sees a video of retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) standing up for the rights of immigrant workers, Gary sees a chance to have the democrats win back America’s Heartland. Not to be outdone, the Republicans counter by sending Gary’s nemesis, Faith (Rose Byrne), to pump money into the current mayor’s re-election campaign, ideally squashing whatever Gary has in mind.
There’s a premise here that speaks to a lot of what is going on with society. Irresistible could be doing the work to develop clear metaphorical symbols out of the targets on display. Perhaps, Stewart could lean into what’s clearly wrong with the country’s lack of social interaction to better bridge certain gaps. This was not the idea. Instead, beyond some surface-level handwringing, Irresistible ends up being fairly toothless.
Now, it’s not required of Stewart to make a film that provides a blistering take politics; battering down the walls put up by one side to show how ridiculous they are, while calling on the other to recognize where they messed up. I’d be happy to see that, but this isn’t that film. If Stewart wants to make his version of Swing Vote or Welcome to Mooseport, that’s up to him. That in mind, he’s not a random studio director like Donald Petrie or Joshua Michael Stern. Whether these are realistic expectations or not, Stewart is the kind of guy whose reputation is built around just how fiery and impassioned he can deliver on his sense of humor and ideologies. Settling for less just feels like a missed opportunity.
As it stands, when not doing the minimum to feel relevant, much of the film is built around a weak Carell performance. As Gary, this is not so much a film about developing an elite Democrat as someone who learns to come down to earth as it is a movie focused on showing just how much of an idiot he can be. So many misguided laughs are supposed to be derived from how he is different from these small-town folks. I wasn’t surprised to find many scenes punctuated by ADR lines to fill in a void.
Where Carell comes up lacking, there’s at least a supporting cast that picks up some of the slack. This speaks mainly to Cooper, who always brings his A-game, even in a silly comedy, and Byrne, who has had plenty of experience, at this point, knowing how to play up comedy from unexpected places. Less effective are Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace, and Natasha Lyonne, as the film offers them next to nothing to do.
One of the true saving graces was a rug pull moment towards the end, which recontextualizes much of the film. At the same time, it’s a choice that threatens to invalidate the actions of nearly every character. So, while I can admire a clever choice and how it is delivered, I’m also of two minds. It’s here where Irresistible both showed me some of the edge I was looking for, yet also made me wonder if the film could have been better if the setup from the start took a different perspective, creating a different sort of comedic tension.
With satire that is never slick or witty enough, laughs that come sporadically, and nothing to really challenge a viewer, given the premise, the question of, “Who is this for?” arises. Stewart may have had modest goals for Irresistible, but that only goes so far when choosing to stay away from the hardcore routine mined well by Armando Iannucci or the deliberate earnestness delivered in Frank Capra films. As it stands, Stewart’s sophomore effort comes off like a lame duck. Here’s hoping his next term finds him armed with a stronger agenda.