Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Democratic campaign strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is still stinging from Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential election. Years later, he is shown a viral video of retired Marine colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) passionately arguing for the rights of immigrants at a town hall meeting. Gary immediately sees the potential for Jack to have a future as a politician – so he heads to rural Wisconsin to help Jack run for mayor. But Gary’s way of doing things in DC do not exactly match the way townspeople in Wisconsin do things.
From the start, Writer/Director Jon Stewart (yes, The Daily Show) intends for Irresistible to be a scathing indictment on the American electoral process and all of the campaigning and ludicrous amounts of money that goes into it. He wants to play in the same sandbox as Michael Moore’s Documentaries and Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning pair, The Big Short and Vice. Stewart wants to make you laugh, and wants to make you think. It is an admirable and lofty goal to set for himself on only his second feature-length Film (Stewart’s first, Rosewater, premiered at TIFF back in 2014). But somewhere along the line, something went wrong.
Instead of creating a witty Political Satire, Stewart has somehow constructed a film that best resembles a dull thesis paper. He uses his characters to make clear points around a very broad message, and then does not really bother developing any of them. Some are one-note personalities, and others exist simply to push forward Stewart’s thesis. The only character with any shred of a personality is Gary, who we follow throughout the Film’s 101-minute running time. And while Carell’s film characters tend to be likeable, here he is a complete dick to everyone around him and is so vain, self-absorbed and clueless that it is hard to feel anything for him beyond complete and utter disdain. There is nothing redeemable about him whatsoever. That may be the entire point Stewart is trying to make, but it does not help much that he never makes it clear if Gary is the hero or the villain of the piece. Stewart does manage to land a few clever zingers and commentaries in certain instances, but the Film around those short moments are squandered by practically everything else.
The Cast is loaded with a slew of recognizable faces from Cooper and Mackenzie Davis to Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne. But the only member of the cast who makes any memorable impact is Rose Byrne, who plays Gary’s Republican rival Faith Brewster. She gets most of the Film’s laughs with her character’s outrageous antics and eviscerating dialogue. Byrne has a lot of fun leaning into what an awful person Faith is, and plays Carell’s foil quite well. She slays in every scene she is in and the Film could have only benefitted from using her more.
You may learn a little something watching Irresistible, but do not come in expecting hilarity to ensue. It was made with the best intentions, but is more of a dull thesis paper than it is a scathing satire. Carell does what he can, but never manages to answer whether we should care about him or not. The Film benefits from injecting Byrne in where it can, but her scenes do not happen nearly often enough.
IRRESISTIBLE is available digitally and on-demand on Friday, June 26, 2020.