A savvy national political strategist takes on a small town mayoral race in Irresistible.
The upset election of Donald Trump set off alarm bells throughout the Democratic establishment. Party operatives are scrambling to understand just what went wrong. One of the key players, strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), believes that the loss was directly tied to the Heartland. He’s convinced that the party needs to win back rural Middle America. His first step is to persuade a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) to run against the town’s incumbent Republican mayor (Brent Sexton). Once the race is set, the quiet little town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, becomes ground zero in a national battle for the heart and soul of the rural voter.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Jon Stewart taped his last appearance as the host of The Daily Show. In the intervening years, Stewart has pretty much stayed off the radar, choosing to make only a handful of message-based appearances for his favorite causes.
His latest project — outside of working his 12-acre farm — is as the writer/director of a film whose subject matter is fertile, familiar territory for Stewart — politics and politicians. This is his second foray into directing after 2014’s mainly forgotten Rosewater. This effort seems destined to be just as quickly overlooked.
I’m purely speculating here, but everything about this film feels as if it were written from back to front. Stewart takes a truly brilliant “what if” idea and then crudely shoehorns a narrative into place. The result is a slow, fairly predictable, highly uneven journey.
The performances are solid across the board. Of course, Cooper is Cooper. No actor working today has as reliable a résumé as his, and this is no exception. Cooper effortlessly instills the retired vet with exactly the right aura to fit the narrative.
Carell also does a fine job playing the perplexed, but determined, politico. This is yet another “fish-out-of-water” character that he can pull off in his sleep. Rose Byrne as his Republican arch-rival also impresses. It’s the first role that I’ve truly enjoyed of hers. As the Marine colonel’s sheepish daughter, Mackenzie Davis is the one disappointing note. There’s just not enough for her to do here.
One area where Stewart’s writing does excel is his fairly balanced approach to both sides of the political divide. Stewart skewers both camps with the impact and efficacy of an Olympic fencing gold medalist. The fundamental problem with the film, aside from some really poor direction, is the inescapable expectation of its most likely audience.
One could make a strong argument for Stewart as today’s incarnation of Will Rogers. Few observers see the political landscape as clearly or as cleverly as he does. As a result, we go into the film anticipating a witty, serious look at the world of electioneering. What we get instead is 100% farce. Stewart turns everything into a joke, but with few laughs. Nothing is serious except the film’s final message. We can’t take anything we see at face value, and aside from the performances, none of it feels genuine. This is one candidate who failed to get my vote.