Thursday, September 10, 2020

Movie Reivew: Irresistible

Irresistible ** / *****
Directed by: Jon Stewart.
Written by: Jon Stewart.
Starring: Steve Carell (Gary Zimmer), Rose Byrne (Faith Brewster), Chris Cooper (Jack Hastings), Mackenzie Davis (Diana Hastings), Topher Grace (Kurt), Natasha Lyonne (Tina), Brent Sexton (Mayor Braun).

Throughout the George W. Bush years, and through the beginning of the Barack Obama years, Jon Stewart was a necessarily voice in political discourse. Yes, he was a comedian, and no, young people should not have gotten all their news from him on The Daily Show – but he was a smart, incisive voice – someone capable of cutting through all the crap and the noise, to show you what was going on beneath it. With his new film, Irresistible, his first work of the Trump era, Stewart reveals himself to be almost painfully out of touch. He isn’t alone in this – late night comedians, including those who have followed in his footsteps from John Olivier to Samantha Bee to Trevor Noah to Stephen Colbert don’t really seem to know what to do with Trump. They attack, sure. But they aren’t getting anywhere. But with them, at least, they seem to know that we’re in a different era. If you told me Irresistible was a film Stewart wrote in 2005, and just forgot to make it for 15 years, I would believe you. But it would have seemed quaint even then.

The film stars Steve Carrell as Gary Zimmer, a bigwig at the DNC, who was confident Hilary would win, and is reeling when she loses. He wants the Democrats to reconnect with the heartland – and when he’s shown a video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a military lifer, given an impassioned, pro-immigrant speech, at the town council meeting in small town Wisconsin, he thinks he has found his avatar – at least a way to prove that Democrats can compete for those white voters in the Rust Belt. He heads to that town to convince Jack to run for Mayor – and he agrees, but only if Jack runs the campaign personally. When it starts to draw some media attention, he is joined by GOP strategist, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), who backs the current Mayor. Soon money is pouring into the race, that takes on national attention.

Stewart, who was always (not entirely incorrectly) accused of preaching to the choir, seems to go out of his way here to paint “both sides” as bad. Yes, Faith is a hypocrite, a huckster, who will tell any lie she feels will get her ahead – Zimmer isn’t any better, except maybe he believes some of the crap he spews – but he spews so much of it, the line gets blurred, and it’s hard to tell.

Stewart seemingly wants to make a new Frank Capra movie here – although with the people Capra usually casts as the bad guys as the main characters. On his show, he never seemed to buy into the “real America” vs. “Coastal Elites” narratives Republicans spew – but he seems to here. The people in this small town just want to make their small town better – and they get no help from people like Gary or Faith. The film will become an indictment about money in politics – and sure, that’s bad, and should be fixed. It’s also not the real problem right now.

So Stewart strands his talented cast with a lot of dialogue they strain to make work. That it succeeds at all is testament to how good Carrell, Cooper and Mackenzie Davis are as actors, and Byrne’s willingness to go wherever the script takes her. But it’s a tired movie – a movie that would have seemed old fashioned when Stewart was on the air. People have pointed out recently that much of what Stewart did on The Daily Show has aged poorly. Perhaps they are right. But that type of comedy is not designed to last – it’s designed for that moment in time. Stewart, unfortunately, seems stuck there.

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