Jon Stewart’s (Rose Water, The Daily Show) new film Irresistible proposes something radical in the midst of national calls for dismantling the police and by extension our way of government: for suffering communities to use the system against itself; a dismantling from the inside out. The movie isn’t a “Hope and Change” story ala Barack Obama. It isn’t even “Not Me. Us.” ala Bernie Sanders. It’s more “Just worry about yours cause Imma get mine” ala NSYNC’s song “Pop.” Except it’s not that selfish. Stewart suggests the “mine” is “ours” as neighbors work together in solidarity out economical, social and spiritual decline. How Stewart presents the film is often didactic, but it’s surprisingly clever in a way that outshine any of Adam McKay’s docu-fiction-pantomime-whatever movies.
Irresistible’s leads are Steve Carell (The Office, Foxcatcher) as Gary Zimmer and Rose Byrne (Mrs. America, Bridesmaids) as Faith Brewster, dueling DNC and RNC strategists/fuckbuddies. These two are as slimy and ego-driven as you can imagine. The movie kicks off with a great audio montage of the 2016 election for president and its immediate aftermath. The moment focuses on the media’s consternations instead of the thoughts and feelings of voters, and that’s pretty much the direction the movie goes for a while. In the aftermath, Zimmer scrambles to turn around the outcome and keep his job. Enter Chris Cooper (Homecoming, Little Women) as Jack Hastings. He’s secretly filmed giving a fiery speech about social welfare to his city council in “Rural America, Heartland, USA,” as the film calls it. I was worried when I read that intertitle, Stewart did like so many coastal liberals before him and would condescendingly depict the middle states. In fact, the marketing for this movie is so blandly liberal that unless you give it a chance (by forking over that $19.99 rental fee) it’s easy to dismiss as another dramedy misfire from Carell and Hollywood. Instead, (spoilers ahead), Hastings is part of an elaborate hoax to go viral and court the attention of Washington, D.C. and the media.
I truly think the marketing for Irresistible is atrocious. The trailer, poster, and all its artwork betray this deep character study of American elites and one smalltown who duped them. Zimmer latches onto Hastings to rebrand the DNC. He’s playing white liberal identity politics with this midwestern yokel, so he thinks, and runs him as a democratic mayor against the incumbent, Mayor Braun, played by Brent Sexton (Mindhunter, Deadwood: The Movie). When Brewster gets wind of Zimmer’s plans she takes over Braun’s campaign and everything going forward raises the stakes for this small town election. Koch brother-like donors come to town and great character actor Bill Irwin (Interstellar, Rachel Getting Married) perfectly spoofs a liberal silicon valley donor known as Elton Chambers. Things hit a fever pitch when Super PACs collect millions of dollars for both candidates with less than 30 days to spend it. And spend it they do, on hilarious parodies of your typical, condescending political ad, but most of the $40+ million they raised is still in the PACs by the town’s scheme is revealed. Diana Hasting (played by Mackenzie Davis, Blade Runner 2049 and The Martian), Jack’s daughter and campaign manager, came up with a plan to siphon money from political donors by working with the entire town to create a political spectacle fit for TV news. Zimmer fell for the trap and with him the entire political-media ecosystem followed. Money raised from a Super PAC doesn’t have to be returned or accounted for, so the town planned to use the money to fund their failing schools.
Irresistible plays a clever trick in masking itself in hum-drum liberal dramedy trappings but reversing itself on the political elite; the kind of politicians who visit the Edmund Pettus bridge for a photo-op, but leave the city of Selma in shambles (and have for over 50 years). The film is like Jon Stewart doing Frank Capra in 2020 without the sentimentality. And fascinatingly, it’s a roadmap to gutting the elite’s power, whether you’re in “Rural America,” or Bedford Park, deep in The Bronx.
Focus Features will release Irresistible on VOD June 26.