Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 19, 2020)
Back in 2014, Jon Stewart made his directorial debut with Rosewater, a somber drama. His second feature, 2020’s Irresistible goes down a more natural path given Stewart’s background, as it presents political satire.
After the unexpected results of the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic political consultant Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) finds himself emotionally adrift. Looking for a new avenue, he finds an improbable path when he views a video in which retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) takes a stand for undocumented immigrants in his Wisconsin town.
Gary senses a politician in the making, so he convinces Hastings to run as a Democrat. This leads to a confrontation with Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne). Gary’s longtime Republican rival, as both bring massive political firepower to this small-town race.
No matter whatever else he does in his life, Stewart’s obit will lead with “political commentator”. While Stewart’s career did fine before he took the anchor role on The Daily Show in 1999, that satirical news show defined him to the public.
As mentioned, Stewart veered away from this background for Rosewater - self-consciously so, honestly. Stewart seemed so eager to Go A Different Way that Rosewater ended up more like a civics lesson and less like a compelling story.
With Stewart back in his wheelhouse, does Irresistible fare better? Nope – indeed, it works worse than the earnest Rosewater, mainly because it should do so much better.
As mentioned, Rosewater took Stewart outside of his comfort zone, so a less than successful endeavor became unsurprising. Because Irresistible suits his background and talents, it should bring out the best in Stewart.
Unfortunately, Stewart lacks any sense of nuance here, as he plays the entire process for easy laughs. The film constantly swings at low-hanging fruit and pursues gags one can see from a mile in advance.
At its heart, Stewart wants to make Irresistible a Capra-esque fable, but he knows that this era’s focus on snark and cynicism won’t tolerate that, so he tries to go both ways. While he attempts a form of good-hearted civic duty, he undercuts these methods with all that cheap satire.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that the Trump era seems impossible to parody. When actual news stories become indistinguishable from Onion content, how does a filmmaker spoof the process?
Stewart gives it a shot, but as noted, he tends to take the easy road and just go after cliché tropes. “Politicians are liars!” “The Washington elite is out of touch!” “People in rural areas are rubes!”
Granted, Stewart eventually attempts to subvert at least one of those notions, but it doesn’t work. Nothing about Irresistible feels organic, as it all comes across as a long lecture to the audience.
Like Rosewater, Irresistible tends to seem more like a civics lesson and political statement than an actual movie. Stewart focuses on the message so much that he forgets the medium. As such, we find a series of moralizing lectures with a movie packaged around them.
Worst of all, Stewart wastes a strong cast. In addition to Carell, Byrne and Cooper, we find talents like Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne and others.
The actors almost sort of kind of threaten to make Irresistible work, but they can’t overcome its flaws. Heavy-handed and trite, the movie disappoints.
Footnote: some facts about electoral laws appear during the end credits.