This may strike some of you as strange, but I became a much bigger fan of Jon Stewart after he departed The Daily Show. I suppose I developed an early negative impression of him in the early ‘90s when his self-titled late-night show took over Arsenio Hall’s timeslot (I liked Arsenio a lot). He struck me as awkward, and I figured he was the same goofy guy when he later assumed hosting duties on The Daily Show, so for a long time I never really gave him a chance to impress me. His show, for me, was simply what preceded The Colbert Report, which I adored. So, when he resigned his place behind the desk at The Daily Show to go tend to a farm, it didn’t really have much of an effect on me, but my impression of Stewart would soon shift.
After the American Electoral Debacle of 2016, Stewart popped up from behind Stephen Colbert’s desk on The Late Show, and delivered a screed detailing the false sense of entitlement the Republican Party assumes over political office. “This country isn’t yours,” he intoned to the GOP, straight down the camera lens. There was a genuine sense of anger that I hadn’t seen in him before. Maybe it was the times, or the facial hair, or his abandonment of the suit and tie. Whatever it was, it led me down a Jon Stewart-sized rabbit hole on YouTube, where I found his numerous appearances on The O’Reilly Factor, along with his skewering of CNN on Larry King and Crossfire. Clearly this guy was a hell of a lot smarter and insightful than I had assumed. After standing up for the well-being of first-responders from 9/11, I now have the utmost respect for Jon Stewart.
When I found out that he had written and directed a feature-length political satire called Irresistible, starring his former correspondent from The Daily Show Steve Carrell, along with Rose Byrne and Academy Award winner Chris Cooper, I was eager to see it. I’m happy to report that it reflects all the thoughtfulness in regards to political machinations and the 24-hour news cycle you would expect from Stewart’s mind, paired with sharp comedic instincts.
Carrell plays Democrat political campaign strategist Gary Zimmer, who happens upon a viral video of grizzled Wisconsin army veteran Jack Hastings (played by Cooper) pleading for compassion for the poor in front of his stodgy town council. Gary, seeing an opportunity for his party to make gains in the American Heartland, descends upon the tiny town of Deerlaken to convince Jack to run for mayor under the Democratic banner. As Jack’s campaign gains steam, the Republican mayoral incumbent seeks out the aid of Gary’s professional rival, played by Byrne. The small town’s mayoral race gets spun into a full-blown circus, attracting the worst instincts of broadcast news media, and triggering Gary’s ugliest ruthlessness.
I’ll fully admit that I share a lot of Stewart’s perspectives when it comes to big money politics and sensationalist news media, and I appreciate that he fed that point of view into this movie. I also appreciate that he gave his cast a lot of room to let their comedic instincts run wild. There are many scenes where you can tell Carrell and Will Sasso were given free reign to improvise, and that allows for many of the movie’s funniest moments. Stewart has crafted a smart and entertaining look into how perverted and counter-productive the electoral process has become, especially in his country.
What holds back this movie from being truly great is the lack of subtext in the screenplay. Characters forthrightly speak the movie’s themes, and I would much rather have been left to arrive at those conclusions myself. There were also odd continuity errors, particularly a shift in lighting during a fundraiser in New York that seemed like an amateurish mistake for a production of this size. Still, these problems aren’t egregious enough to ruin the movie.
Stewart is a filmmaker who genuinely has something to say, and that, more times than not, will make for a compelling movie. With Irresistible, his first fictional feature, he has given us a fun and intelligent movie with a rock-solid cast. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
I give Irresistible a 7 out of 10.