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Film Review: “Irresistible” Is Anything But

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 25th, 2020

Film poster: “Irresistible”

Irresistible (Jon Stewart, 2020) 1 out of 4 stars.

I greatly enjoyed Jon Stewart’s tenure as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (I enjoy his successor, Trevor Noah, very much, as well), but as a writer/director of movies he has, so far, proved something of a bust. In both his 2014 Rosewater and now his 2020 Irresistible, he traffics in the kind of earnest outrage that turns potentially gripping drama into facile theatrics. At least that earlier movie was based on a true story and so had earned, prior to Stewart’s involvement, its seriousness. But here, Irresistible is entirely the product of the erstwhile comedian’s overly sincere mind. What is clearly intended as biting satire becomes, sadly, an exercise in cinematic futility, despite a mildly surprising final twist that only fractionally redeems the many prior missteps. Despite the film’s title, you will no doubt resist what charms there be.

Steve Carrell (Space Force) stars as Gary Ziimmer, a washed-up Democratic political consultant drawn away from Washington, DC,  to the economically devastated town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, where he hopes to revive his fortunes by successfully steering a maverick candidate to the mayoralty. First, however, he will have to convince that man – a crusty farmer in late middle age, played by Chris Cooper (Little Women) – to run, in the first place. In addition, a longtime Republican rival, played by Rose Byrne (Juliet, Naked), follows him, hoping to repeat the victory she visited upon him in the 2016 presidential election (hence his current disgrace). Soon, the town is overrun with operatives and money, the low stakes of the small race treated like an apocalyptic battle. Who wins becomes secondary to the financial implications of the invasion, and every heavy step of the dramatic way, there is Stewart, reminding us that out-of-control campaigns are bad for democracy.

You think? Now that’s a novel concept … Unfortunately, what value there is in the conceit is lost in the obviousness of the execution. The residents of Deerlaken are portrayed as rubes, the Washingtonians as arrogant elites. The upside-down narrative flip at the end, though it corrects some of the previous stereotypes, comes too little/too late to dispel the unpleasant feeling of the previous 80 minutes. Worse, Stewart offers no new insights into our broken system than that it is suffused with cash. He is like Carrell’s Zimmer, speaking down to us little people from on high, explaining, with painfully slow annunciation, what is wrong and how to fix it. Oh, and the jokes are pretty lame, too.

Steve Carrell in IRRESISTIBLE ©Focus Features

No one is well served by the script, least of all Carrell and Byrne. Cooper does his all-too-frequent grumpy-guy shtick, and the ensemble mostly just behaves like the kind of cinematic rural stereotypes that must drive people in the actual heartland crazy (to be fair, the vision of coastal types is no less reductive). Worse, for much of the story we are led to perceive the young thirtysomething Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) as viable romantic potential for the late fiftysomething Carrell, who himself is mooned after by an age-appropriate Deerlaken resident the movie treats like a comic afterthought. The fact that the truth about the Davis character is more complicated than we initially believe does not repair the earlier damage.

In short, then, this is a clumsy affair, devoid of the kind of acuity we once expected from Stewart. Even the title is a mess: what, exactly, is it supposed to mean? On the final title card, we see the word “RESIST” in one color, flanked by “IR” and “IBLE in another. Okay, so we are meant to resist the influence of money, as if we hadn’t picked up on this, already. It’s a slight visual gag with little very punch to it, a perfect metaphor for  the sorry movie that preceded it. Take its message to heart, then, and stay away.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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