There’s no doubt people expecting Irresistible, the new film directed by Jon Stewart, to be the scathing kick in the ass America needs right now will surely be disappointed. And there are a couple different things going on here. While I was watching Irresistible, I found myself surprised that after all this we’ve collectively gone through since Stewart left The Daily Show in 2015, that his movie would be a kind of inoffensive, somewhat slight political comedy that felt like in the same vein as watchable yet forgettable movies like My Fellow Americans; or Welcome to Mooseport; or Jay Roach’s Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis vehicle, The Campaign. It just seemed a little weird Stewart wasn’t trying to make something profound.
But, then I accepted that, for whatever reason, this is what Stewart wanted to make. I mean, who am I to judge the type of movie a directors wants to make? If Jon Stewart wants to make Welcome to Mooseport, well then he can make Welcome to Mooseport. Fair enough! And maybe it’s a good version of Welcome to Mooseport? That’s what I’m here to judge. And for most of Irresistible, that’s what this is.
Oh, but then the ending. I don’t want to get into specific plot points for spoiler reasons, but the movie gives us a baffling twist that seems to be there just so we can all be lectured about what dopes we all are. Then we get some text at the end about how money rules the world. Then the title of the movie appears, but a number of letters fade away so that all we see is “resist.” And then to top it all off, during the end credits Stewart conducts an interview with some sort of expert who tells us the plot of Stewart’s movie is actually plausible. Then it all hit me: oh, Jon Stewart thinks this is profound. (Or, at least he sure seems like he did at one point in time. Though, in an interview with the New York Times, he compares his movie to a chocolate bar.)
In Irresistible Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a Democratic campaign strategist who, having worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is looking for something to galvanize the country that can speak to middle America. A video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a small-town Wisconsin farmer, defending the rights of local immigrants goes viral. Carrell’s Gary seizes on the viral moment, flies to Wisconsin, convinces Jack to run for mayor as a Democrat, then pumps a large amount of money into Jack’s campaign in an effort to make this mayoral run national news.
Rose Byrne plays Faith Brewster, a Republican strategist who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. She gets wind of this mayoral race and sends her team into Wisconsin and dumps a lot of money into the Republican incumbent. Again, for most of the movie it’s just this low stakes, mildly interesting comedy filled with jokes about small-town life. (Jokes that always seem to make coastal people angrier about the way Midwesterners are treated than actual Midwesterners. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, usually we either don’t care or, sometimes, nod along.)
Again, the problem comes at the end when we find out the joke is on us for trying to even be invested in this story in the first place. It’s almost like Stewart realized he wasn’t making something important enough, so he throws in a whole twist that invalidates the whole movie, and almost every character, and almost every character’s motivation, and in the process alienates the viewer.
Look, maybe it is because this is from Jon Stewart we expected more. It’s kind of annoying when he downplays his role in politics and activism and labels himself just a comedian. I don’t see Gallagher in front of congress fighting for health benefits for the 9/11 first responders. Look, the guy is an actual hero for doing that. Which is why I wonder if I’d have the same reaction if, say, Jay Roach had directed the movie? Would I have just rolled my eyes, said, “that was fine,” and moved on? Then I came to the conclusion that for the most part Jay Roach makes fairly satisfying movies without giving a finger to the viewer.
I think the major problem with Irresistible is at some point Jon Stewart realized that he was indeed making Welcome to Mooseport, then decided it needed to be more important than Welcome to Mooseport, and by doing so made something kind of worse than Welcome to Mooseport. Irresistible could have been something that was just a pleasant enough, throwaway comedy – and it feels like that for most of its running time. If only Stewart read his own word, “resist,” and resisted that ending – that urge to try to turn this movie into something it just isn’t.
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