‘Irresistible’ successfully explores big, twisted political practices in Small Town, USA

“Irresistible” – “He’s a church-going Bernie Sanders with bone density.” – Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell)

Mr. Zimmer, a Democratic strategist, describes Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) of Deerlaken, Wisc. with the enthusiasm of an obsessed teenager yearning for a dance with the prom queen.  Jack, however, is no demure beauty.  He’s a farmer, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel, and a widower.  In other words, Gary sees this man as a perfect candidate, one who the Dems could use after Donald Trump’s 2016 famous – or infamous, depending upon your perspective – success.  In Gary’s mind, if he can convince Col. Hastings to run for mayor of Deerlaken and win, they could spark a new perception of the Democratic Party throughout the nation and inspire more victories down the road.

It’s not difficult to deduce that “Irresistible” is a political film.  It may pleasantly surprise you that the former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who knows a thing or two about comedy and the United States’ political machinery, wrote and directed this movie, his second.  Stewart plays on the country’s state of affairs in a few universes currently swallowing it up.

Big cities versus Rural townships

This culture clash – that began when architects and engineers thought up multiple story buildings and housing congregated within close, confined spaces and then put pen to paper and equations to brick and mortar – plays out in a Midwestern farming and mom-and-pop business community.  It’s a place where a bar hosts local fellas, like the Two Mikes (Will Sasso and Will McLaughlin), and a little coffee shop on Main Street includes addicting, fruit-filled streusel on their menu.

Gary decides to call this place home for a while and attempts to blend in by driving an American rental car and drinking domestic alcoholic beverages at the said watering hole.  He wants to befriend the Two Mikes and Ann (Blair Sams) from the humble caffeine stop, but he cannot find his go-to D.C. creature comforts.  Downtown Deerlaken has more boarded-up business than open ones, and for everyday farm life, let your imagination tiptoe through the cowpies.  Meanwhile, Carell shines with his character’s sarcasm and disgust, when Gary frequently mumbles under his breath, but we can hear him.

Blue versus Red

These days, when looking at an electoral map – for nationwide, statewide, or perhaps countywide races – blue and red are the binary colors.  Democrats claim the former and Republicans maintain the latter.  Even though our brains hold these associations, this wasn’t always the case.

In an informative Nov. 2016 The Washington Post article titled “Red and Blue: A history of how we use political colors”, this American standard only recently became unofficially official during the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election.  Surprising, right?  In 1976, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) designated Republican-won states in yellow.  Yellow?  Pollster Frank Luntz had to be displeased when watching the returns as a kid.

This race isn’t for kids, and Gary’s chief nemesis, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), arrives in town to prop up Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton) and his reelection efforts.  In the process, she unleashes an arms race.  Byrne is so good as a sharp-tongued killer.  She’s a hell-bent cutthroat who doesn’t need to raise her voice to slash her opponents to ribbons, either on grand stages or in close conversations.  Gary and Jack are her main targets.  That’s not exactly true, because Mr. Zimmer and Ms. Brewster primarily combat in delightfully derisive discourse, while Jack is usually somewhere else.

Faith repeatedly outfoxes Gary, when delivering her verbal jabs and right hooks, and producers and directors have proudly cast Byrne in several comedies over the last decade.  Rose seems at her best when playing the villain ((“Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015)), although she’s also a breath of fresh air as a protagonist (“X-Men: First Class” (2011) and “Instant Family” (2018)) too.

Old School versus New School

The two previous themes offer chuckles and laughs, but Stewart turns to the actual mechanics of running a campaign through old school techniques (like phone banking) and new school ones as a dramatic device to prove a point:  money and technology drive almost everything.  These copilots have always fueled politics, but since the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, they’ve done so while on human growth hormone and Monster Energy drinks.  Super PACs and also superhuman analytics – similar to the exceedingly complex derivatives that ignited the 2008 financial crash or personal data collected by HYDRA in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – have contaminated the system.

Stewart goes to vast extremes, and since “Irresistible” is a comedy, his approach makes a lot of sense, but the film slips into cartoonish, groan-inducing territory a couple of times, including a bizarre billionaire donor stopping in Gary’s office to drop off a massive contribution.  Okay, we get it.

Exploring the analytical inner workings feels informative though, and Topher Grace and a  somewhat-unrecognizable Natasha Lyonne deliver several helpings of snide, condescending remarks.

This twisted 21st-century soup should agree with politically-interested audiences, and the flavors speak to aw-shucks films when comedic pairs throw barbs under competitive circumstances.  “Irresistible” isn’t in the same league as a classic Hepburn-Tracy flick, but Carell and Byrne’s comedic chemistry is on point.  Cooper’s Jack may tumble into supporting territory, but his on-screen daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) toes the line for the Hastings.  No, Davis isn’t punching out a relentless cyborg (“Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019)), but she keeps Gary honest, when he often patronizes the town or its residents.

Hey, Gary doesn’t realize that he’s doing it.  He’s trying to find a comfortable middle ground between wanting a macchiato with almond milk, cinnamon and a splash of caramel and listening to Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”.

Hey, politics is a tricky business.

⭐⭐⭐  out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits: Focus Features; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers

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