"Irresistible" — Score: 4 Stars = (**** of ****)
Focus Features (R)
From 1999 through 2015, former actor Jon Stewart anchored, co-wrote, and co-produced “The Daily Show,” an openly "Fake News” show still airing on the Comedy Central channel. Although an unabashed Democrat, Stewart quickly gained respect from both sides of the aisle for his (relatively) balanced skewing of American and global politics. Stewart and his satirical show thus became the source of real news albeit in a "left-handed" way and became the source of real news — albeit in a left-handed manner— doing so for an entire generation, one largely uninterested in politics or actual/real news of any genre.
Since leaving "The Daily Show," Stewart has become a staunch advocate for surviving victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (on New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania). This served to further cement his reputation as a man who uses his celebrity for noble, bi-partisan causes — and not fleeting, self-promoting, "look at me" headlines and sound bites.
In 2014, Stewart wrote and directed "Rosewood," a drama based on the memoir "Then They Came For Me" by Maziar Bhari and Aimee Malloy. It received lukewarm critical reviews, completely tanked at the box office, and left most rightfully thinking Stewart had exceeded his limited grasp.
Following a long hiatus, Stewart has returned with "Irresistible," a political satire that fits far better within his comfort zone and wheelhouse; where he slings deadly arrows at the American electoral system and continues to operate as an equal opportunity offender.
Unlike so many of his ilk on the right and (mostly) the left, Stewart recognizes the folly of the entire political process and shows no favoritism or bias. In this world created by Stewart — which is only lightly lampooned — the major players are all power-mad posers.
Keenly recognizing that all politics are local, Stewart sets his story in the fictional Wisconsin town of Deerlaken (Rockmart, Georgia providing the shoot location), a solid Red city which has and will always be a crucial swing state.
Following the bitter defeat of Hilary Clinton in 2016, high-level Democratic Party operative Gary Zimmer (former "Daily Show" correspondent Steve Carell) is looking for something/anything to get his party back to being appealing to Middle America. After viewing a video of local farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) at a town hall meeting, Gary feels he’s hit public relations gold.
Jack is ruggedly handsome, soft-spoken with a strong work ethic.
He is the widowed father of farmhand daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis, "Tully," "Terminator: Dark Fate"). At first glance, Jack is "red" to the core but, as we know, looks can be deceiving. In said video, Jack sounds "blue" as he speaks positively on a litany of bullet point moderate left issues while exhibiting tempered yet sincere passion.
With the demoralizing wounds of the 2016 presidential election still fresh, Gary sees Jack as not only his personal redemption but also as a way to reclaim the heartland of America for the Democratic Party. With just the slightest bit of resistance, Gary coaxes Jack to run for mayor of the deep red Deerlaken, as a Democrat, opposing a long-term Republican incumbent Braun (Brent Sexton, "Deadwood").
Along with a substantial war chest and a bevy of blank checks from Northeastern and West Coast liberal party loyalists, Gary pours millions into a race that would otherwise be a minor blip on the national radar. This in turn catches the attention of Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), Gary’s Republican counterpart bent on foiling him at any cost.
With her unreadable eyes, deadpan delivery, and severe Park Avenue wardrobe, Faith (imagine a mix of Kellyanne Conway, Mary Matalin, and Cruella de Ville) seems to always be a step ahead of Gary at every turn, which of course, drives him batty.
Perhaps more so than anyone currently above ground in this country, Stewart — thanks to his stint on "The Daily Show" — knows how to navigate the thin lines between politics and entertainment; farce and satire; enlightenment and preaching. Thus, all of those elements are present to one degree or another in "Irresistible." "The Daily Show" succeeded in large part because it didn’t make the fatal mistake of talking down to its audience or lapsing into too much "inside baseball" content, while explaining how the sausage is made.
There will certainly be some political pundits and film critics who might find "Irresistible" too simplistic and/or too broad.
While those arguments are perhaps somewhat valid, they miss the bigger picture.
You throw facts, figures, furrowed brows, condescension, misplaced anger, angular egghead humor, and tisk-tisk moralizing at Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lunch Box, and their eyes are guaranteed to glaze over.
You’ll be the smartest guy in the emptiest of rooms.
Stewart has pulled back the curtain on the freak show carnival that is the American electoral process. He has shown how so much money can yield so few tangible results.
You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll curse at the screen, you’ll be educated, enlightened, and above all else, you’ll be entertained.
Be sure to stick around for the entirety of the closing credits where Stewart saves his best for last.
"Irresistible" is available to own or rent on Fandango.com and Vudu.com beginning June 26, 2020.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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