Chris Cooper is always a welcome sight, and he certainly is in Irresistible. Casting him is one of the few things writer/director Jon Stewart gets right in a political satire that is all too easy to resist. In our politically polarized times, all Americans might just agree for once: The movie is a fail.
What Stewart clearly wants is to make a modern-day The Great McGinty, Preston Sturges’ antic and deliriously funny 1940 screwball comedy lampooning corruption in American politics. An admirable ambition to be sure, but Stewart lacks Sturges’ wit and he is hamstrung trying to satirize an era in which a game show host is the president of the United States. The satire, such as it is, is modern American history
Stewart casts Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, the Democratic Party’s top strategist and spin doctor. Living with the ignominy of watching all his work go for naught when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, he is a man in desperate need of a win. When he sees a viral video of retired Marine Colonel and dairy farmer Jack Hastings (Cooper) at a Deerlaken, Wisconsin, town council meeting passionately speaking up on behalf of undocumented workers, Gary has a brainstorm. Looking for his own redemption after the 2016 debacle, he wants to run Hastings in Deerlaken’s mayoral contest, a first step toward proving the Democrats can win in the America’s heartland.
From that set-up, Irresistible misfires in all directions. The My Fair Lady-like plot with Hastings as a political Eliza Doolittle to Gary’s Henry Higgins defies belief. Why would an apparently moral and ethical man go along with Gary’s scheming? Cooper also appears to be in an entirely different movie than that of the rest of the cast, particularly Carell and Rose Byrne as Gary’s Republican counterpart Faith Brewster, who comes to Deerlaken to work on the incumbent mayor’s campaign. Cooper is such a confident and truthful actor that he convinces even as he plays an underwritten character. But Carell and Byrne flail in cartoonish roles, mugging helplessly for the camera.
Irresistible‘s worst sin is that it is not funny. Not a bit. Stewart, the man who used to so nimbly navigate political satire as a writer as well as the host of The Daily Show, has penned a screenplay shockingly laugh free. In a way, Stewart is like his main character, someone dispirited and poleaxed by Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the Trump presidency. Irresistible is his attempt to grapple with these last long four years, but not only is this an era that defies satire, Stewart’s sense of humor has fled under the onslaught. Under those conditions, the failure of Irresistible is only too predictable. –Pam Grady