Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart made a name for himself as one of the sharpest satirists on US television, a commentator unafraid of astutely airing his frustrations without beating around the bush. Surprisingly, his sophomore film may end up rubbing his liberal audience up the wrong way, as Irresistible is not the trenchant anti-Trump grenade that many expected. It’s a political satire with a very gentle bite. A nibble of a satire. But it nibbles in a very entertaining way, and offers a contemplative for some / dispiritingly conventional for others Capra throwback.
It sees Steve Carell star as political strategist Gary Zimmer, who, still recovering from Hillary’s 2016 defeat, heads to backwoods America. He is looking for a “rural friendly” face for the Democrats and thinks he’s struck gold when a video of Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) goes viral. “If you can’t live by your principles in the bad times”, Hastings tells the Deerlaken town council, “then I guess they’re not principles – they’re just hobbies.” But trouble quickly arrives when Kellyanne Conway-stand-in Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) heads to Deerlaken to ensure that the Republicans don’t lose the upcoming mayoral election to the opposing team’s “Bill Clinton with impulse control”.
Irresistible is a broad-strokes affair that doesn’t take a partisan stance or dig too much at the current White House incumbent, despite the potential to do so. Instead, Stewart plays it safe by leaning into political cynicism and largely avoiding didacticism. It’s a shrewd move, even if it can be argued that he could have shown more teeth by amping up the absurdities of money-driven politics. The overall film is not a landslide win, nor is it up there with Veep; it’s more of a neutered Wag The Dog – a pleasantly old-fashioned film that dishes out a few descent zingers and benefits from a last act twist that neatly exposes the toxicity of tribalism.
Irresistible / Directed by Jon Stewart (US, 2020), with Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis. Starts August 06.