Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 101 minutes
Directed by: Jon Stewart
Lots of people miss the former host of THE DAILY SHOW Jon Stewart’s astute, acerbic voice of reason during these crazed, politically-charged times. But the political “comedy” (a term used loosely here) he wrote and directed, IRRESISTIBLE, concerning the follies behind a fictional rural town’s mayoral election, demonstrates that he should stay further away from voicing his wishfully witty observations about America’s broken two party system. This is utterly resistible fodder made a thousand times worse by its smarmy characterizations, muddled motivations and dreadfully dull narrative. Lacking a fiery spark to set his kerosene-drenched ideology aflame, the filmmaker winds up cinematically self-immolating, pandering and condescending to everyone.
Democratic political strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is in need of a sea change for his party after they lost the 2016 election. No one respects him – not even his Google tech devices. He’s not so much disillusioned as he is frustrated that their message isn’t reaching middle America. The alarm bells begin ringing once he’s shown a viral video of widowed, ex-Marine-turned-farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) making an inspiring speech at a town hall. It’s a democratic message in the body of someone who appears conservative. Gary comes up with a plan to use Jack as a guinea pig, testing a more “rural-friendly” message out on a small mayoral race in Deerlaken, Wisconsin.
Hijinks and hilarity most definitely do not ensue from here on out, no matter how much Stewart shoehorns in those shenanigans. Gary is unlikeable from the jump, deliberately not remembering people’s names (which is played as a ‘humorous’ affectation), strategizing his car rental, and ordering a Budweiser at the town’s German pub because he’s got no regard for others. He mocks and patronizes the townsfolk everywhere he goes, from the local bakery (where he backhandedly sasses the owner, yet gobbles up her goods), to the campaign volunteers’ makeshift offices (where he talks down to them like they’re country bumpkins). The “fish out of water” scenarios, where Gary’s supposedly the butt of the joke who’s not assimilating to small town living, completely backfire. The protagonist isn’t funny. He’s a rude jerk with zero rootable interest.
Connoted by the zany, wacky uptick in composer Bryce Dessner’s heavily laden score, Gary’s stresses compound when his equally-obnoxious rival, Republican Party Strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne, who’s made passive-aggressive lobs an art form), shows up to run the incumbent mayor’s (Brent Sexton) campaign. This is played like no one saw this development coming. A series of one-upmanships between the pair occur, sniping at each other on news programs, trading barbs in the cafe and getting dueling elderly rich donors to sponsor their candidates. Gary’s billionaire of choice Elton Chambers (Bill Irwin) is revolting in his satirization not because of the actor’s performance, but because the scene treats his handicap and his robotic super suit as an irreverent, uproarious punchline. The same goes for the insanely stupid bit – a pedophilia-adjacent gag gone awry – revolving around Gary and his team on their computers in a parked car, stealing WiFi from the high school. All this feature is missing is Carell sticking his hand up a cow’s butt to help it give birth and subsequently having an epiphany about his life a la CITY SLICKERS.
Smug and arrogant are colors not often seen on Carell and it’s no wonder. They don’t work. I don’t care what negging technique Gosling’s gigolo taught him in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. The audience still was given reasons to care. Here, there’s little reason we should feel invested in any of these characters, as Stewart indicts the entire political spectrum. He makes all parties look like idiots, but more so, his liberal-leaning fanbase who’d be watching this movie. It’s genuinely maddening and exhausting.
Women in Gary’s immediate orbit are written poorly. Though Faith has a cantankerous attitude, she’s barely one-dimensional. Her arc revolves solely around Gary’s. After being spoken to by Gary like a child multiple times, Jack’s collegiate daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) has to be validated by a man stating what good she’s done – things told and not shown by the filmmaker.
There’s a major third act reveal that pivots the entirety of the feature, landing it in another genre. However, Stewart lacks the talent and craft to deliver everything up until that point with any sense of intelligence, subtlety and ingenuity. He triples down on what VICE did and gives us three fake endings. It’s a shame none of them are funny. Stewart even delivers an ANIMAL HOUSE-inspired epilogue on these characters we couldn’t care less about.
As evidenced by the interview with former chairman of the Federal Election Commission Trevor Potter that runs during the end credits (assuming you hang on any longer after the Unit Production Managers’ names appear), Stewart’s feature began with a kernel of an interesting idea. He clearly botched it in his execution. This one practically screams in the faces of its viewers, “There are terrible people on both sides!” Without a cutting, humorous bent and a ballsy commentary to accompany the plodding plot, it’s a loser.
IRRESISTIBLE is available for PVOD for $19.99 rental starting on June 26.