Starring Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Rose Byrne, Natasha Lyonne, Topher Grace. Will Sasso, C. J. Wilson, Brent Sexton, Alan Aisenberg, Debra Messing, Christian Adam, Will McLaughlin
Written by Jon Stewart
Directed by Jon Stewart
Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Jon Stewart, Lila Yacoub
Cinematography by Bobby Bukowski
Edited by Jay Rabinowitz and Mike Selemon
Music by Bryce Dessner
Jon Stewart has struck cinematic gold during a most opportune time with his sharp, biting, thought-provoking, insightful, funny, timely, and, overall, smartly-made political satire “Irresistible,” a movie that everyone should watch right now, in June, 2020, as everything political seems to be falling apart and going straight to hell day by day. “Irresistible” strikes at all of the right political talking points with its steady, even-handed, yet also finely-tuned and perfectly-targeted, satire and parody that subtlely, yet also savagely, simply tears apart everything that is wrong with the current American political system–which is to say, everything.
Stewart wrote and directed this wise and witty deconstruction and destruction of American politics, and he’s to be praised for his screenplay and his direction. Stewart’s story, subplots, story development, character development and dialogue are perfectly welded together to tell a funny, satirical story that successfully tells its own tale in the context of what happens during the basic plot, but, like any good satire and parody, Stewart also uses the basic story to comment on, dissect, break open, criticize, satirize and tear apart the greater, numerous problems that continually plague the American political system–problems that, it should be noted, even though the movie makes this clear, too, are problems that have plagued the American political system literally since the very system started. “Irresistible,” while telling its story, manages to satirize and criticize the focus on style over substance in political messaging; the blatant lies that overwhelm political campaigning in general; the blatant corruption that overwhelms political campaigning in general; the blatant game-playing that overwhelms political campaigning in general; the misuse and gross abuse of easy, cliched symbolism in politics and political messaging; the corrupt influence of illegal donations and corrupt money; the corrupt influence of money in general and literally throughout the political system; the unhealthy–and weird–obsession with polling, overly-detailed data, numbers and canvassing and straw polls and other wayward campaign accounting ills; the gross brainwashing of people in the name of influence and votes; and, just in general, the overall illegal corruption that exists in politics, campaigns, donations, fundraising, canvassing, elections, money, registration and every other aspect of the political system.
That sounds like a lot for one movie, but Stewart manages to convey his points, as noted, through the message of his basic story–and it’s that basic story foundation that carries the movie, as the story is clever, funny, insightful and serves as that needed overall symbol of all of the other, larger, greater societal and political ills just mentioned. And when the movie starts off with a basic story premise that’s instantly a hoot, the viewer is intrigued, and you know that what’s going to come is going to be smart, clever, funny, and enjoyable to watch and follow. And, as noted, “Irresistible” is indeed all of this.
That clever basic story starts when classic, standard, overly-wonkish, overly-nerdy, overly-committed and completely, overly D.C.ish–to many faults–campaign and politics veteran Gary Zimmer comes up with one of those political ideas that only people too deeply ensconced in politics ever think is a good idea: To travel to a very small, isolated, economically-devastated–and mostly unknown–generally right-wingish small town in Wisconsin, convince a humble, quiet, soft-spoken, Capra-esque, Mr. Smith-ish, small town, retired Marine veteran to run for mayor–for the Democrats–and concurrently use–use is a major word–the colonel’s personality, speeches, convictions and campaign as some type of symbol, statement, barometer and message for the Democrats and subsequently be some type of catalyst for a pipe-dream campaign, political, messaging and Democratic takeover by the Democratic Party throughout the Midwest, the West, and, by gawd, the entire country! Of course, that premise and idea by Zimmer and his party cohorts is so ridiculous, yet also so real and familiar to real life on several levels, one just has to laugh–with pain. One has to laugh because, in real life, unfortunately, this is just how too many political wonks and morons think and act, and this often is actually what the broken, crumbling and desperate political parties do–they focus on small, little, out-of-it, Nowheresville campaigns to win over some people in some places, spending huge amounts of money on scattershot, symbol campaigns, with hopes that some type of magic domino effect will follow, pulling in voters and donors across the country. Of course, politicians, campaigners and political parties keep doing this–and they keep failing. Which makes Zimmer’s misguided quest and convictions–and Stewart’s premise and movie as a whole–just funnier. When a satire grasps a tight hold onto apparent problems that everyone hates and loves to see skewered and smashed to pieces, the viewer is going to enjoy, as noted, that ensuing skewering and smashing to pieces.
Which is exactly what happens with Zimmer’s quest to turn that humble, soft-spoken, quiet, retired Marine colonel, Jack Hastings–wonderfully underplayed with just the right mixture of good, old fashioned Midwestern country-bumpkin (but smart country-bumpkin) lovable-roots-and-grit-and-dirty country boy charm and quiet intelligence and insight by Chris Cooper (a likeable Chris Cooper, it should be noted)–into a victorious small-town Democratic mayor: everything falls apart and goes straight to hell. That’s not giving anything away. If everything went well and smooth and nice and pretty, well, that wouldn’t make for much of a sharp political satire. What happens exactly and specifically during Zimmer’s campaign won’t be given away, but viewers should know that Zimmer’s machinations of Hastings, his family, his friends and his town is as hilarious to watch as, say, any goofball stupid fumbling bumbling gross misguided and corrupt real-life small-town, small-county and small-state political campaign that we all read about, watch and suffer in horror with every year.
While Zimmer works his decidedly oafish, insensitive, rude, moronic political–or, really, non-political–dumb machinations in the small town–which, of course, Zimmer completely misunderstands because he, of course, has absolutely no idea what a small rural town is really like and what small-town rural people are really like–his equally dumb, out-of-it and overly D.C.-ish Republican counterparts pick up on what Zimmer is doing and immediately fly their equally moronic counterpart operatives out to the town to run a campaign against Hastings. Soon, and this is where things, the story and the movie really start to pick up energy, verve, insight and the sharply-tuned satire that carries and permeates the film, the idiot Democrats and the idiot Republicans throw literally everything they can into this tiny, little, small-town mayoral race, and we mean everything: big-time donors; fancy big-city-based fundraising dinners (the types of events that no one, not even the super-rich or the super-powerful, ever really enjoy, look forward to or even want to participate in); other fancy big-time fundraising events; PACs (political action committees); super-PACS; not-so-super-PACS; dirty tricks; dirty campaigning; mud-slinging; lies; corruption; deceit; double-dealing; more lies; faked controversies and scandals; more mudslinging, local, regional and national news stories about the little small-town mayoral race; goofball, over-the-top, completely moronic talking-heads “discussions” on moronic broadcast and cable politically-oriented talk shows where no one knows, really, what the holy hell they’re talking about or doing, and everyone is on television just to increase their publicity quotient, sell books and make more dirty money; and even high-tech campaign tools such as satellites, computers, video equipment and other gimmickry and gadgets and doo-hickies that only embedded campaign and political dorks know what to do with.
To just sit back and see the political hacks, idiots, morons, nerds, dorks and imbeciles run roughshod over the little town–as the residents react with equal parts surprise, exhaustion, sarcasm, fascination and all-out, flat-out disgust–is simply hilarious. Carell, Cooper, Rose Byrne as the Republican doofus campaigner counterpart to Carell’s Democratic doofus campaigner–Stewart keeps his satire non-partisan, as he’s making a statement about the overall stupidity of the political system as a whole, and he is not making any partisan messages–and a wonderfully, consistently sharp cast keep their comedic, satirical and acting energy high and focused and turn in funny performances. Mackenzie Davis stands out in a beautifully understated, downplayed performance as Hastings’ sympathetic, smart, laid-back–and, yes, beautiful–daughter, Diana Hastings. Davis lets her natural beauty simply shine, and she doesn’t flaunt her beauty, and she also doesn’t overplay or underplay her beauty–she just lets it be. What really shines in her performance is her presence as a symbol of realism, reality, quiet intelligence and patience as Zimmer and Byrne’s Fox New-ish Faith Brewster nearly destroy themselves, the town, their parties, the campaign, Jack Hastings and everything else they touch.
Soon, much to the viewer’s enjoyment and the overall enjoyment that is “Irresistible,” Zimmer and Brewster make such an idiotic and moronic mess out of everything, their stream of horrendous, illegal, corrupt and sinister ploys, tricks, games, machinations–and lies and deceit–came back to roost, come back to get them, come back to haunt them, and they and their poor, sorry, soiled, wonkish minions slink out of town, out of the Midwest, and back to the hellholes they crawled and slimed their way out of, with, yes, some lessons learned and some quite different messages sent. That’s not giving anything away, either, because if you thought that Zimmer and Byrne and their wonk-drones would win or get the upper hand, then you just weren’t paying attention. However, it’s what actually happens in this movie–which is not revealed here–that really makes this movie. For that, though, you’ll just have to watch the movie.
Besides Stewart’s dead-on political satire–which brings to mind other recent, and not-so-recent, quality political satires as “Election,” “Dick,” “Vice,” “The Big Short,” “Dave,” “Being There,” “Bulworth” and “Wag the Dog”–that comes through in the film’s story, dialogue and screenplay, and Stewart’s energetic, tightly-controlled and well-placed and well-edited direction, “Irresistible” is also nicely shot by cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, who smartly casts the small town settings and scenes in a nice, country-ish, bucolic glow that makes good use of the pastoral setting, and who ably contrasts his small-town scenes with the garish, stark bright lights and sanitized environments of the political hacks and their phony, clueless, blue-blood donors that Zimmer and Brewster bring into the campaign. The entire movie has a nice sheen, glow and shine to it that compliments the generally rural, naturalistic setting. That provides a comfort zone for the viewer, which is nice, because even as Stewart is tearing apart the political system, he’s also giving us a fun, nice, welcoming setting to enjoy while he’s satirizing the larger picture. Which, again, is smart–there’s about ten-thousand too many political satires and political movies set in the same general fifteen cities. And there’s too many of those same movies who come off with some wayward urban, big-city orientation that places the films completely out of whack with most of the country. And that is why doo many political satires fail–they make the same mistake of stupidly entirely disconnecting with reality and real people–which is also the mistake that too many real-life politicians and campaigns make, again, every year. What this genre really needs is more political satires set squarely in small towns, cities, counties and communities where real people live and breathe and play and work–real people, not political wonk D.C. talking-head, bubble-world, blue-blood, sheltered poseur people. That’s what “Election” did so well–that film is the closest film in overall tone, mood and atmosphere as “Irresistible” in how the filmmakers take a small-town event and use it to completely, thoroughly–and, again, hilariously–take down an entire broken, devastated, ruined political system in the United States.
Thus, during 2020, one of the absolute worst years in recent American history on every level, and a year that’s followed 2019, 2018 and 2017–three more of the some of the absolute worst years in recent American history on every level–“Irresistible” comes at that opportune, needed time, and arrives at just the right moment for a United States of America that is literally at a devastating, dangerous, on-the-edge breaking point. And when a country reaches a horrific, nightmarish breaking point–that is exactly, precisely, completely when sharp, intelligent, wise, well-crafted, funny and entertaining political satire is needed most. Thus, when “Irresistible” opens nationwide at home on demand, but not in movie theaters, on Friday, June 26, 2020, moviegoers stuck at home suffering through the slings and arrows of despair that is 2020 would be wise to pay the money and take the time to watch–and enjoy and learn from–“Irresistible.”
“No worries, I’m in politics–I’m already dead inside,” Zimmer says at one point during the movie, in a brief moment of sanity and clarity for the otherwise detached, politically-overwhelmed character. Many Americans are feeling, and have been feeling, dead inside for much of 2020, and quite understandably so. However, when you sit back, watch, enjoy and laugh during “Irresistible” this weekend, rest assured that you will instantly feel much less dead inside and much more alive inside. “Irresistible” is, indeed, irresistible.