You’d think Jon Stewart would know better. But then you watch Irresistible and you realize he doesn’t. As a director and writer, Stewart seems sadly out of his depth in this facile misguided political comedy. I use the term comedy loosely, since the jokes are flatter than the Wisconsin farmland where they die with a thud. The humor includes lots of Steve Carell leaving the frame and then — ha ha! — having to return to the frame. Or Carell making a lewd gesture and then — ha ha! — realizing an old lady has seen him do it. Or Carell just nattering haplessly. Is Carell doomed to play Michael Scott for the rest of his career? Can we please get more stuff like his canny interpretation of Donald Rumsfeld in Vice?
Irresistible is the story of a small town mayoral race in rural America, Heartland, USA. That’s the title card. No joke. “Rural America, Heartland, USA.” The election captures national attention as it draws big time political operatives played by Carrel and Rose Byrne. Carrel’s supposedly savvy political operative routinely forgets people’s names. As he flies into Wisconsin to recruit a candidate, he’s reading the Wikipedia page for Wisconsin. These seem like the opposite of savvy, but it just goes to show how desperate Irresistible is for laughs. Byrne stands around looking blonde, brittle, and inanimate, presumably doing a Kellyanne Conway impression. Mackenzie Davis scores the most thankless role as a blushing farmer’s daughter who gets to be the voice of indignation in the third act when one of the campaigns — gasp! — dares to run a dirty attack ad.
But where Jon Stewart really disappoints, and where he should definitely know better, is in the strained political element of Irresistible. I’m not sure there’s a message here. It feels like an attempt at a sweetly optimistic political fable from the time of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Why does it make a point of opening on the morning after Trump’s election? What is it doing here and now, in these cruel times? What does it have to tell us about anything contemporary, or even relevant? “Democrats are getting our asses kicked because guys like me don’t know how to talk to guys like you,” Carrel tells the salt-of-the-earth lily-white rural voters standing in front of the town’s boarded-up storefronts. You can all but feel their economic anxiety. It’s all so naive, glib, and sickeningly saccharine.
And worst of all, at a certain point, Stewart decides he wants Irresistible to be about something else. It’s as if he realized he didn’t have a point, so he changed his mind to make the movie about that thing instead. A sudden plot twist is a weird way to deliver a pandering and sanctimonious lecture about the election process, but I’ll give it credit for one thing. It reminded me it’s time to re-watch Michael Ritchie’s brutal and timeless 1972 political procedural The Candidate. So thanks for that, Irresistible.