It’s been five years since Jon Stewart left The Daily Show but the comedian and activist has continued to maintain a low profile presence and contribute to the political zeitgeist in his own special way. Stewart has returned to the spotlight in full this weekend with a new directorial effort geared towards continuing the satirical political commentary that made his Comedy Central series such a hit. “Irresistible” is Stewart’s second film as a director and stars Steve Carell and Rose Byrne as opposing political strategists who take their personal war to a small Wisconsin town in an attempt to influence the local mayoral race which evolves into a sometimes-subtle sometimes-direct critique of the political atmosphere of modern American elections. Whether you’re in it for the simple laughs or the insightful political themes “Irresistible” offers enough to keep you invested but as a complete package feels like a missed opportunity.
“Irresistible” stars Carrell as Gary, a Democratic campaigner who discovers a viral video of former military man Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) and decides to make him the next big Democratic superstar in a small conservative Wisconsin town. Gary’s political rival, Republican campaigner Faith (Rose Byrne) decides to help the incumbent mayor as the town becomes a battleground on the national political stage. The entire movie is built to mock the current party division in America and how small communities are taken advantage of in order to gain a political edge every four years. As Gary and Faith go back and forth doing everything they can from fundraising to attack ads to gain an edge it becomes clear that there’s something else going on behind the scenes leading to a pretty cool twist involving Hastings’ young daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis). The twist is fun and provides a harsh critique of how politicians use these communities for their own personal gain putting party politics over common decency and respect for the people. The action leading up to the big reveal in the final 20 minutes provides some fun comedic levity and insightful satire, but not enough to give “Irresistible” the lively energy or committed cynicism required to fully sell its premise and themes.
“Irresistible” had the potential to take things to a ridiculous level of absurdity and at times it actually does. When it’s funny it’s REALLY funny and it does provide some harsh eye-opening criticisms of America’s political climate, but it all feels too reserved and safe considering the director behind the camera and the extent of the divisive ideas it tries to tackle. I almost feel like it should have been more up front and pretentious, courting more controversy than it seems to intend. Instead it feels held back by the need to hide a big twist and by the time that twist is revealed and all the pieces come together the critiques hidden below the surface are more like quick “ah-ha” moments than thought-provoking insight. To its credit the twist does give “Irresistible” a rewatchable quality as it finally explains why the townsfolk are so welcoming and why the candidates seem less concerned with the outcome of they election than their campaign coordinators but it actually takes away from the film’s core themes and ideas by forcing all the critiques to be watered down so a big whammy finish can occur which, honestly, doesn;t really live up to the buildup.
But while “Irresistible” could have been a better made political satire it does have some legitimately amusing moments that make it a watchable comedy. Steve Carell and Rose Byrne look like they’re having a blast playing off of each other which makes the whole experience worth it from a purely comedic perspective. The straight-faced or overly welcoming nature of the townsfolk actually helps compliment the comedic timing of the leads because it allows Greg and Faith’s rivalry to stand out for how ridiculous it really is. While the dumbing down of the political commentary might not have served the main purpose of the film it didn’t destroy it’s hilarious charm. The cast still does well with what they have and give us a ridiculous and charming comedy that just should have been more below the surface.
I can’t sit here and say “Irresistible” didn’t provide credible and critical insight into the disaster that the American political process and election season has become. Sadly, though it could have done so much more to sell these ideas. It never really feels like it’s buying into its own commentary due to either a lack of commitment on Jon Stewart’s part as director and writer or due to the forced limitations of the twist that caps it all off. The comedy is fun though and the cast is charming which keeps it from being a stale experience at the very least. The final twist also gives the movie some rewatchability as it changes how you look at the townsfolk and their intentions upon a second viewing. Overall, I feel like “Irresistible” had good and noble intentions with a lot of eye opening things to say about the American political process, but it falls short of expectations. The sum falls well short of the individual parts making for a middling political satire at best.