Updated: Aug 4, 2020
By: Ali Moosavi
Jon Stewart earned almost legendary status as one of the sharpest, most incisive and most humorous late-night show hosts on TV with his Daily Show. After leaving that show, he wrote and directed his first movie, Rosewater (2014), which was a moderate success. Now he has repeated the double writing/directing duties with Irresistible.
Stewart starts the film at the November 2016 US Presidential election and a rivalry between two election strategists of the opposing parties. The Democratic Party strategist, Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell) loses that battle to his Republican nemesis, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne). After seeing a viral video of marine veteran Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) standing up for the rights of his townsfolk in a town hall meeting in Deerlaken, Wisconsin, Gary decides to help Jack run against the incumbent Republican mayor, since it is in a swing state. The involvement of a high-profile Democratic strategist in the local elections of a little town attracts the attention of national media and the scene is set for another battle between Gary and his Republican opposite, Faith, who has the whole machinery of the Republican party behind her.
This scenario of the little man fighting the big system is a well-trodden one with Frank Capra its absolute master. The added ingredient of a sophisticated man trying to deal with what he considers are the inadequacies of little town Americana has also been well covered, most humorously in Groundhog Day (1993). Once Gary comes to Deerlaken, Stewart delivers a whole pile of clichés. The townsfolk are shown as simple folks and hillbillies; Wi-Fi is hard to find (this is in 2020 where almost every village in India has Wi-Fi), and so on. Some of these clichés are explained by a nice twist that Stewart provides at the end of the film, but he may have lost quite a few viewers by then.
There are however moments in the film where Stewart displays his renowned wit and political humour. The election promo videos of the opposing candidates are very funny as is his expected lampooning of Fox News (one of their panel, commenting on a marine veteran running against the incumbent Republican mayor says, “it hurts our military to know that one of their own sides with the Democrats.”) In a town social gathering, Republicans hold up the sign “Guns Save Lives”. Stewart attacks the power of media over ordinary people when Gary’s rival lies in front of TV cameras and Gary muses, “She said it and now it’s the truth.” Another of Stewart’s jibes is at the increasing prevalence of people trying to whitewash a wrong thing they’ve said or done by simply stating, “My words and action do not represent who I am.”
The main theme of Irresistible is the damaging influence of money in US elections. In the film, for the election of a mayor in a little town with a population of 5,000, the two opposing parties pour in millions of Dollars into backing their candidates. The rules of the game are much different in the age of social media than before. For the local election in the film, a whole bunch of consultants and online analysts pour into town, carrying out endless analysis and polls.
Steve Carrell, who used to be part of Jon Stewart’s team in his Daily Show days, does a fine job but one feels that he has been greatly underused. What Irresistible yearns for, is the acid wit and black humour of Billy Wilder. It whets the appetite to think what Wilder would have done with this story with perhaps Water Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the roles taken by Steve Carrell and Chris Cooper respectively. Irresistible is never boring, funny in parts and occasionally hits the target. However, it merely touches the surface and does not reach the heights which Stewart reached in his Daily Show days.