“Irresistible” is a political satire written and directed by Jon Stewart. In it, Steve Carrell plays Gary Zimmer, a Democratic political consultant still aching from the wounds of Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2016. Desperate to find a new candidate whose campaign he can run, he gets excited when a colleague shows him a YouTube clip of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), an ex-Marine Colonel who went viral after speaking up for immigrants at a city council hearing in little Deerlaken, Wisconsin.
Convinced Jack is the real thing, Gary goes to Wisconsin to meet him and convince him to run for mayor against the Republican incumbent (played by Brent Sexton). Jack agrees, but only if Gary will stay and oversee the entire campaign. Thrilled, Gary reports back to his team in DC that Jack “is the real deal, like a Bill Clinton with impulse control, like a church-going Bernie Sanders with better bone density.”
When word gets out that Gary’s putting his weight behind Jack, Faith Brewster swoops in. She is Gary’s longtime Republican rival, played by Rose Byrne with the haircut and attitude of a Kellyanne Conway doppelganger. The two consultants ramp everything up, and pretty soon there are lawn signs, billboards, and TV commercials paid for by Super PACs with names like Wisconsinites for Religiously Based Compassionate Empathy, Real Americans For Honor And God, and Traditional American Families For Faith And Freedom. Gary and Faith set up phone banks, bring in pollsters and demographers, and treat the mayoral race as if it has national importance.
The supporting cast includes Mackenzie Davis (who was so good in “Tully”) as Jack’s adult daughter Diana, plus Topher Grace (“BlacKkKlansman”) and Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”) as members of Gary’s strategy team.
Throughout, Stewart is careful not to make the local folks the targets of his satire. It’s the political machines and operatives who are repeatedly made to look ludicrous, and there are plenty of laughs at their expense. The media get their fair share, too, with CNN’s “Dodecabox” of pundits who have to chime in on the story, or the Fox & Friends hosts riffing on whether an ex-Marine running as a Democrat hurts troop morale. My favorite running joke in “Irresistible” is that CNN, MSNBC, and FNC all have an anchorwoman named Brooke — played in all three instances by the same actress, Kaitlyn Carlton.
Stewart’s writing really shines when he gives his characters exactly the kind of lines their real-life counterparts would spew. For instance, when Diana tries to convince Gary to not use a piece of opposition research that will hurt the Mayor’s brother within days of the election, Gary ruthlessly denies her request, justifying his actions thusly: “It’s not politics anymore. It’s just math. We need what they get plus one. That’s all. And if I can’t get that by getting more people to vote for your dad, then I have to get fewer people to vote for Braun.” That sounds exactly like the current GOP strategy of suppressing access to polling places by any means necessary in the hopes that it will mean smaller turnout by Democratic voters, thus keeping Republicans in power.
After Gary’s first meeting with Jack, I thought “Irresistible” would follow the model of Michael Ritchie’s 1972 classic, “The Candidate,” with a political novice being shown the way by a veteran campaign manager, even while he’s unsure what he’ll do if he wins the office he seeks. But Stewart had other intentions. “Irresistible” is less about the aspirations of the people running for office and more about the megalomania of the people pulling the strings. Thus, it mirrors David Gordon Green’s 2015 movie, “Our Brand Is Crisis,” which also had rival professional politicos (Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton) trying to steer an election in an unlikely place (in that case, Bolivia).
While “Irresistible” is much better than that, it’s not quite biting enough in an era where daily lies and obfuscation from the White House have become the norm, and Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok are the new media influencers. I wish Stewart had displayed more of the cutting edge he became known for during his years helming “The Daily Show.”
Still, I enjoyed “Irresistible” enough to give it an 8 out of 10. It’s available via video on demand beginning today. If you do watch it, stick around through the end credits.