FILM REVIEW – IRRESISTIBLE. With Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace. Written and directed by Jon Stewart. Rated R for language including sexual references. 100 minutes.
Jon Stewart returns to political comedy in his second movie as writer-director with IRRESISTIBLE, a witty and clever satire about big-time consultants getting involved in small-town politics. Ultimately, it’s less about the left/right divide than the urban/rural one, but it’s one that should appeal to viewers of all stripes and locales.
Steve Carell stars as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic consultant trying to figure out how to adapt to the Trump era. A video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a small-town farmer in the Midwest, goes viral. In it he’s seen calling out a move to cut benefits to non-citizens, noting that when flooding threatened the town, these neighbors were there filling sandbags and supporting the community. Zimmer sees this as an opportunity to field test a campaign geared toward people who seemingly have been lost by the Democratic Party.
He goes out there, the city slicker sticking out like a sore thumb, but manages to convince Hastings to challenge the incumbent mayor. The Republicans get wind of what’s going on and send in their own operative, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to lead the opposition. It turns out that Zimmer and Brewster have a history that goes beyond working on opposing campaigns.
The satire is delicious, from the ad campaigns to a sequence where Zimmer takes Hastings to New York to raise money from wealthy liberals who couldn’t find his home town on a map. Stewart is an equal opportunity satirist, making fun of both the out of touch urbanites and the clueless townies with glee. This leads to a climactic resolution that echoes a classic 1950s satire which–if identified–might give too much away. Viewers should go along for the ride and let the story unfold on its own terms.
Stewart gets a wonderful performance out of his old “Daily Show” colleague Carell, who is earnest and focused and occasionally smug but honestly believes he’s helping Hastings and his town with the campaign. Cooper, a veteran character actor who has been exceptionally (and deservedly) busy of late, has a plum role here as the veteran Marine/farmer who goes along with the consultant’s plans but turns out to be something more than a patsy for the big city operative. Byrne, who scored as Gloria Steinem in the recent Hulu/FX miniseries “Mrs. America,” makes the most of a supporting role, playing Mary Matalin to Carell’s James Carville.
There’s no question we are in divisive and surreal times, what with COVID19 (which hasn’t gone away), a crashed economy, and protests against systemic racism. “Irresistible”manages to skewer several sacred cows without going to the left or the right, but instead–in the best tradition of satire–holds up a mirror to ourselves, making us laugh and think.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.