If ever there was a time we needed Jon Stewart’s biting political commentary, it is now. The funny man turned filmmaker turns his attention to the absurdity of US elections in his second time in the director’s chair with Irresistible, though his teeth are not as sharp as they used to be.
The film’s opening montage shows the history and weirdness of the campaign trail. Wearing cowboy hats and kissing babies is the norm, and through a series of images from historical presidential races we see that the tradition of this process being goofy has deep roots. As we settle into looking at the 2016 election with photos integrating two of the characters we are about to meet.
Gary (Steve Carell) was working on the Clinton campaign and is clearly broken by the loss. He was good at his job, or at least thought he was, but has lost his mojo. Faith (Rose Byrne) was on the Republican team and is glowing in her narrow win. To try to get back in sync with what small town America is really like, Gary decides to throw his weight behind a YouTube sensation’s run for mayor.
Jack (Chris Cooper) was filmed passionately speaking at a town meeting and is trying to parlay this small notoriety into winning the run for mayor. His daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) is a little skeptical of Gary’s intentions, but stops shy of intervening. She wants to help her dad win. What starts as a small operation soon balloons into a notably impressive campaign, which brings Faith out of the rock she crawled under to enter the race.
While it is clear that Faith is slimy and will stop at nothing to get what she wants, Gary is also shown as shellfish and bumbling. This is to say, Stewart villainizes career campaigners on both sides of the spectrum. Both come out looking pretty terrible in the end, and neither seem to care about their candidates aside from getting a win for their team.
To that point, Irresistible tries its best to be apolitical. Though it is painfully clear which team is right and which is left, any actual politics or policies are completely abandoned in the film. We are led to like Gary more than Faith, but both play dirty and we don’t ever get the impression that either care in the slightest about the quality of their candidate. But, conversely, they are both excellent at their jobs and are understandable products of the irreparable broken American political system. To rephrase the saying: We kinda hate the players, but we really hate the game.
Irresistible does dedicate a fair amount of running time to highlighting the cultural differences between Faith, Gary, and Jack. Their clothing choices, beer choices, and even radio station choices come up frequently as we are getting to know them, and it is clear that they are each different. Gary tries his best to relate to Jack and the other Wisconsin townsfolk, but his assumptions about them sway toward insulting and many of the jokes in the film are at his expense. It is an easy laugh to see the snotty city man not understand the farmers, and as hard as Carell tries, these laughs are not enough to carry the film.
Irresistible turns in solid performances from all of the actors (though Davis is wildly underutilized), but overall it has no teeth. It is a lukewarm criticism of election finance and a mild condemnation of the fetization of the perception of “Real America,” but it fails to go for the jugular of either.