For years, Jon Stewart has been one of the commentators to lead the American political comedy scene, specifically as the host of The Daily Show. Even after his tenure with the show was over, Stewart was a vocal about his anti-Trump stance. With the way the political landscape has polarised the country’s people, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine someone making a film based on an aspect of that genre, that too set in contemporary times. But owing to Stewart’s legacy, it is inevitable that he feels most comfortable with that subject matter, and that is his second directorial attempt after Rosewater (2014) would revolve around politics.
What is the story about?
In Irresistible, a film he has both written and directed, we follow a small-town mayoral race which has caught the fancy of Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne (political consultants) who use the municipal election to advance their careers by converting it into a big-ticket campaign. After an embarrassing loss with Hilary Clinton in 2016, Gary Zimmer (Carell) seeks out former Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) whose defence of immigrants at his local town hall has gone viral. At Deerlaken, Wisconsin, Gary convinces Hastings to run for Mayor which the latter reluctantly agrees to. Deerlaken is on the verge of economic ruin and it seems that local support and political standing may bring it to bounce back. Meanwhile, Byrne plays Faith Brewster, Gary’s arch-nemesis, who is sent to strategize the campaign for Hastings’ Republican rival. A battle of one-upmanship soon begins between the two, leaving behind the simplicity of what the election stood for.
There is political fatigue in the world today, but there is still plenty of room for smart commentary on topical issues. What makes Irresistible comes off as a somewhat out-of-touch story is that its setting doesn’t warrant any path-breaking commentary unless there is a very unique style to say it. No matter what happens in the world, there will always be room for outrage. For instance, when Gary first enters Deerlaken, there is a distinctly uncomfortable and awkward ideological difference between him and the townsfolk. They seem to welcome him by virtue of what small-town mentality represents (offering him a place to stay, food to eat, and constantly checking upon him), but it does not take away from the fact that his ways aren’t welcome in the compassionate and simple methods of the town. Carrell and Byrne represent the corruption that exists in modern urban politics and you want them to just leave the premises. But that is just the first 20 minutes. And the rage, the spark and the urgency are missing in the rest of the film.
Part of this is owing to - money, polls, biased media coverage. Tell us something that we haven’t seen before. In some ways, the film seems almost as tame as a Hallmark channel movie about an urban businesswoman returning to her hometown to rediscover love and family. There is hardly any wit or bite in most scenes or dialogues. Moreso, unlike what was expected of Stewart’s comedy, the film seems to be taking a neutral approach to its own political allegiance, coming across as confused and dull. Irresistible seems to be made for a conservative white audience who would still be surprised by the middling approach to its comedy, mostly because it features likeable white actors who don’t challenge their ideologies drastically. Almost every joke which seems to be snide towards a leftist is followed by a subtle knock at conservatives. It doesn’t matter whether you belong to a red state (of mind) or blue, Stewart seems to want to ‘please everybody.’ The one thing that does work in the favour of such a film is that it is filled with likeable actors and the only way you will feel less disappointment after watching the movie, is if you take its premise as a purely superficial instrument.
Stewart has his former Daily Show alumni Carell play his usual charming and comedic leading man, but since not much is happening in the first hour of the film, Carell’s unusually subdued style is also not gripping enough. Byrne and Carell are meant to be at loggerheads with their banter setting the tone for some of the more deliciously fun parts of the movie. Unfortunately, their chemistry is also somewhat lacking. On her own, though, Byrne is rather delightful as a cruel and self-centred woman. Mackenzie David plays Hastings’ daughter Diana and she is quite believable as a smart and able leader. There are a few fun cameos like Topher Grace, Debra Messing and Natasha Lyonne.
On a flipside (and what may actually work for some viewers, Irresistible is earnest in its congeniality. It is a tried-and-tested formula to see a no-nonsense heartless tactician gorging on fresh local pastries, as we watch the townsfolk melt his brutal heart, but it’s not like there is no room for such comforting stories. Perhaps the one advantage the film has is that it is less cynical for the jaded era. There are a few quirky characters who make up most of the town and the character arc that Gary goes through is satisfying enough for us to root for him in the end.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the material that Stewart uses to weave this story together is rather weak, failing to evoke a chuckle or laugh after the novelty of Gary’s arrival is over. The jokes don’t land because they aren’t ground-breaking or edgy. The film is too simplistic and broad for those who have a strong awareness about the political circus in America, and too compliant for a regular viewer. But as I said, the latter audience may still watch it on a rainy afternoon if they don’t have much else to do.
Music and Other Departments
Irresistible has straight-forward production design, cinematography and score for the kind of theme it tackles. The work put in fits but is nothing out of the ordinary. What the movie needed was a better screenplay and dialogue, and had that happened, it would still be more suited for an after-school TV or a Netflix miniseries.
Did I Enjoy It?
I enjoyed the initial premise, post which I saw myself getting more bored as each minute passed. The film has nothing new to say.
Do I Recommend It?
If you don’t mind its simplistic concept or are fans of the cast, you can give it a shot. Don’t expect to have anything to write home about later.