Back during his time hosting The Daily Show, Jon Stewart was among the smartest and most biting political satirists out there. Ever since he departed, Stewart’s voice has been missing from the day to day discourse. Now, for his sophomore feature as a filmmaker, he’s tackling a political satire with Irresistible. More mainstream, at least on the surface, than his directorial debut, Rosewater, this is a sneakily effective delivery system for his beliefs. Initially seeming like a broad comedy, Stewart has a subversive streak just beneath the surface, waiting to be sprung on viewers. Hitting VOD services this week, Stewart is about to make his voice heard once again.
The film is a political comedy and satire, looking at how the most extreme versions of politics can seep into even a very small town. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Democrats are looking for a new strategy, and one of their top strategists in Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) sees a potential shining star in retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper). Shown a video of Jack standing up for the rights of his Wisconsin town’s undocumented workers at a meeting run by the mayor (Brent Sexton), Gary instantly thinks he has a way to win back the Heartland from Republicans. Dispatched to the midwest, Gary recruits Jack to run for mayor, helped along by Jack’s bright daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis), though not before getting into some small town shenanigans. Once Jack is on board, a campaign is launched, one that has a chance of actually winning. However, Gary’s success alerts the GOP, who unleash his longtime nemesis Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), something Gary seemingly has wanted the whole time. In short order, a local race for mayor becomes an expensive out-of-control fight for the soul of America, one that reveals the best, as well as the worst, within the political system. Stewart writes and directs, with music by Bryce Dressler. Bobby Bukowski handles the cinematography. Supporting players include Bruce Altman, Topher Grace, Bill Irwin, Natasha Lyonne, Will McLaughlin, Will Sasso, C.J. Wilson, and more.
Jon Stewart has an ace up his sleeve here, and it’s in a third act reveal I wouldn’t dare spoil. That’s easily the best moment in the flick, though the interplay between Steve Carell and Rose Byrne isn’t far behind. Byrne turns in the more compelling work, though this role is right in Carell’s wheelhouse, so he’s perfectly cast. Stewart’s direction is steady and even-handed, with Bobby Bukowski’s visuals effortlessly depicting the Heartland. His script, on the other hand, has more highs and lows. Early on, things are a bit uneven, and there’s a sense that he’s building up to his big moment at the end without quite layering it on throughout the picture. Despite that, this is continued evidence that he’s on the cusp of being an essential filmmaker with a brilliant movie within him.
If Irresistible has a really noticeable flaw, it’s in how Stewart holds so much back for the end. Characters are kept simplified until they’re revealed to be more. It’s as if he wanted his movie to sneak up on folks. It surely will, but it does, for the longest time, appear for all the world to be a better and smarter version of something like Swing Vote, as opposed to more of an Adam McKay vibe. You’re getting a mix of those two vibes, but there’s some unevenness along the way. Make no mistake, however, the ending is absolutely dynamite. Stay for the credits, and stay through the credits.
This weekend, anyone looking for a satirical comedy should definitely give a shot to Irresistible when it becomes available On Demand. This is a film with something to say, along with a unique way of saying it. What more can you ask? Funny, smart, subversive, and incredibly timely, Irresistible is truly a story only Jon Stewart could have told. Give it a look and you’ll likely agree.
Be sure to check out Irresistible, available on VOD this Friday!
(Photos courtesy of Focus Features)