Like the reanimation of ghosts past, the year leadup to an election cycle always guarantees a cinematic product and a shrugging response by audiences. Studios program glib or grim political musings that no one asked for, the best of which might have been the eyerolling self-seriousness of failed prestige play The Ides of March. Remember the Kevin Costner-led Swing Vote? There is a reason that you certainly don’t. While these films often arrive as naked attempts to cash in on the moment in superficial terms, cinematic memory typically does right in allowing them to go forgotten and quickly so. Pray for a similar fate to meet Jon Stewart’s Irresistible, a pungently toxic dose of cynicism in a subgenre defined by its cynicism.
Starring Steve Carell and Rose Byrne as competing political strategists, the grossly tips its satirical aims into outright and unfunny farce with nauseating expediency. Carell plays recently defeated Democratic operative Gary Zimmer, a curmudgeon and misanthrope looking for his next candidate to position for victory. He finds it online in Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a rural Minnesotan and former Marine who becomes a mini-viral sensation defending undocumented workers during a town hall. The film doesn’t just chastise Gary (and by extension, the pull of the Democratic machine) for trying to form a viable candidate out thin air, it presents it as a systemic status quo.
Once arriving in Jack’s small town, Gary proceeds to look down his nose at the entire town on the road to Jack’s mayoral election. But to support the encumbent Republican mayor, Byrne’s Faith Brewster descends on the town to uphold both her rivalry to Gary and the Republican party’s hold over the region. Stewart positions Gary and Faith opposed both politically and sexually, painting with such unappetizing, regressive broadness that you might make you yearn for the halcyon hellscape of the more ambitious, if equally ghastly Adam McKay.
Further wasting the talents of castmembers such as Natasha Lyonne and Mackenzie Davis, Irresistible could be cartoonish if it weren’t also so flat, its worst moments reeking of unforgivable ableism (presented by a characterr played by Bill Irwin) or sexist tropes. Rest assured, Irresistible despises the audience, and the blame for this falls squarely on Stewart’s witless attempt at satire.
Stewart’s presence alone overcasts the film in retrograde vibes. Borrowing on the aura and blind passion of his run with The Daily Show without any of its sharpness of concept, the film’s ideas remain incoherent between us-and-them and they’re-all-the-same mentalities. In reflecting the current American political apparatus, it ignores actual grassroot efforts (for better or worse) attempting to function outside of the establishment. Rather than satirizing the current climate, it feels like a gross misunderstanding of it.
In an election year with perhaps more at stake for human justice than ever before, Stewart’s both-sidesism point of view on political manuevering isn’t just fundamentally out of touch – it borders on irresponsible. The glibness is disturbing in this toxic ode to centrism, wrought in decidedly bad taste aesthetically and spiritually. Irresistible begs the consideration that genuine humor and compassion might have completely slipped away from Stewart. If nothing else, successful filmmaking has. It’s as stalely composed as it is considered, dying on the vine like a remnant of a past election cycle rather than the current one.