Everyone misses Jon Stewart. His absence from the political conversation is deeply felt. When the world needed him most, he may have left the airwaves, but was emboldened with action, creating the kind of true change Stewart always rallied for on The Daily Show. His new film Irresistible is the kind of political treatise that fit the same world view: in a world of corrupt politicians bankrolled by bloated and ridiculous super PACS, who are the heroes? The Daily Show correspondent Steve Carrel plays Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer. He finds the perfect candidate where democracy has gone to die, in rural Wisconsin.
There is a viral video making the rounds on the internet. It shows a veteran, espousing many of the core beliefs that Zimmer has formed a career around developing, with his many successful candidates. With grace, Chris Cooper’s Jack Hastings embodies all the best attributes of America. The perfect man to turn a red town blue. Stewart is tactfully able to reproduce the initial charm Carrel carried on the show while finding a great political foil in Cooper. His character of Hastings is able to contain both a progressive message and a kind of projected honesty: “Like Bill Clinton with impulse control. Like a church-going Bernie Sanders with better bone density.”
The supporting cast does fine if inconsistent work. Rose Byrne plays the Conservative strategist. She has a long history with Zimmer, as their sexual tensions simmer through political battle ads. They have fun together on screen. Mackenzie Davis does her best as the Hastings’ daughter. The townsfolk all contribute something larger to the picture. At the heart of it, it shows a clear fracture between the political division, having fun with the assumptions one side makes of the other, and everyone is playing into a media-established narrative of who they are meant to be. When the politics stop, characters move on and lead more genuine lives.
Gone for so long and with so much to say, Stewart can fall prey to his own created devices. Irresistible is certainly a film of political intrigue, playing out the absurdity of the campaigning system and the nature of moneyed election cycles. It sets up a broader high-concept that only reveals itself in the last portion. This makes it a hard film to write about: what it is really about reveals itself only in the final moments. But it makes the audience wonder, then, what effect was the rest intended to achieve? Through pure entrenched ideological ideas, it finds itself an equal match to the modern political satire, but one grasping at meaning, until it establishes the twist.
Stewart has the most fun and clear use of his voice when making a lampoon of the media. He gets plentiful opportunities, skewering the typically manipulative Fox broadcast, while also having fun with CNN, as they bring on a whole host of commentators, all talking at once. While the film has a clear-cut understanding of the political and news machines, it benefits most when it operates within those spaces. When it becomes about the human element, it reads as dry and less interested, or plainly expository.
As Stewart’s first directed narrative feature, Irresistible suggests an even greater capacity than where it ends up landing. It can feel sluggish and baggy, as we come to expect the whole thing is a setup for a gut punch, and are then proven right. What matters is the sharp return of a political voice that has been quiet when it has been needed the most. It is a kind of public service, having Stewart release any kind of political film. Something we need more than we can want. What will it take to get him in front of the camera, where he could do significantly more, with all the same subjects?