Irresistible Rubs Our Collective Noses in Political Complicity

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Jon Stewart’s new film Irresistible holds a broad and powerful mirror up to the lies and guises of America’s election economy. Right when you think an outspoken personality like the beloved former host of The Daily Show is going to shout from his now-taller cinematic pontiff a chosen side or favorite, he remarkably doesn’t. This is an even-handed farce of finger-pointing where both political sides have dirty hands and the media in the middle is wholly and equally complicit. Stewart unleashes this cringing astonishment in a surprising movie that pulls your leg and also very rug right out from underneath you.

The political labels are coming at you for full exposure. If that’s a porcupine you try to avoid (astounding social acrobatics if you’ve got them), good luck. However, if you need a way into Irresistible consider the lyrics of heartland rocker and political centrist (who knew) Bob Seger’s 1978 hit “Still the Same.”

You always won, every time you placed a bet

You’re still damn good, no one’s gotten to you yet

Every time they were sure they had you caught

You were quicker than they thought

You’d just turn your back and walk

You always said, the cards would never do you wrong

The trick you said was never play the game too long

A gambler’s share, the only risk that you would take

The only loss you could forsake/The only bluff you couldn’t fake

And you’re still the same/I caught up with you yesterday

Moving game to game/No one standing in your way

Turning on the charm/Long enough to get you by

You’re still the same/You still aim high

There you stood, everybody watched you play

I just turned and walked away/I had nothing left to say

’Cause you’re still the same/You’re still the same

Moving game to game/Some things never change/You’re still the same

The simple song is a recurring background musical motif that echoes the deception happening from the red and blue directions of this movie with pure white citizens being manipulated in the middle. Between the insincere sameness of the bets, charms, aims, bluffs, tricks, and more, line after line of Seger’s ditty nails a piece of the duplicitous characters in Stewart’s film.

The guileful gamblers of Irresistible are political strategists Gary Zimmer and Faith Brewster played by the twosome of Steve Carell and Rose Byrne. Each are fantastically introduced during the 2016 national election in front of small gatherings of faceless press with their eager microphones, flashbulbs, and cameras. Letting you know exactly what kind of outrageous people they are and the type of movie that contains them, both proudly proclaim their job is to lie straight into faces. Their matching responses are delivered precisely as if it were one of the sterilized and scripted soundbites we tend to expect. Instead, it’s the veracity we never hear but should be able to decipher.

With their finely stretched fabrications, Gary and Faith relish this cruddy combat, veiled as “working with” not “working for.” Truth be told, they don’t value the people they’re collaborating with or studying. Zero shame is present. Both spin doctors blow off teachable moments with zero regrets under twisted mantras that state “people have to do shitty things in the service of the great good.” That’s the slime of supposed dignity they wash their hands through and shine their smiles with. If you don’t know the type, you’re falling for the fake shine.

Jack Hastings points at the mayor during a heated council meeting
Image courtesy of Focus Features

The post-election hangover of Donald Trump’s historic Presidential victory has left the Democratic pusher Gary crushed and desperate to expand the base of the party so lacking in rural American support. When a low-ranking staffer shows Zimmer a viral video of a former Gulf War Marine Colonel named Jack Hastings (Academy Award winner Chris Cooper) standing before a city council meeting speechifying needed support for welfare programs in the small (and fictitious) town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, his eyes light up. He sees “a Democrat that just doesn’t know it yet,” “Bill Clinton with impulse control” and “Bernie Sanders with bone density.”

Gary is so convinced he can make something of this utilitarian unicorn he travels to the swinging Badger State to turn him into a mayoral candidate. The completely city-slicking 2%-er who is used to getting his ass kissed and avoiding carbs jumps right into his awkward elbow-rubbing in the land of beer, streusel, cheese curds, and Carhartt. After coaxing Jack to challenge the incumbent Mayor Braun (veteran character actor Brent Sexton), word travels faster than the town’s dial-up internet among the kindly denizens and a race is on.

Competing analysts Kurt and Tina listen to Gary is dismay.
Image courtesy of Focus Features

Here come the warped “liberal” and “conservative” labeling assignments that demand side-choosing. Why? That’s because a duel between analytics and polling (personified by smarmy supporting turns from Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne that could fill their own spinoff movie of competitive banter) reveal an alarming amount of trends and descriptors in every person. Chris Cooper, with his silvered mop and down-home cadence, is perfectly cast to be a principled fellow not bound by any porch-rocking. Anchored by his astute daughter and unofficial public barometer Diana (Mackenzie Davis), his character is fluffed up to become someone and something he is not purely for the sake of appearances. That created image moves needles, television graphics, and checkbook covers. Face it. Each party has a “type.”

The full orchestra of Gary’s war drums draws national media attention to this humble hamlet as well sparks the invading arrival of the vapid bitch Faith to back Mayor Braun. Armed with their micromanaged minions, mucky millions, and salacious scalpels for scandal, the two rivals thrown down an oral sex wager to whomever’s candidate can win this parliamentary pissing contest. Let the zany pandering and placating begin.

Echoing the notion of shame earlier, Gary and Faith’s professions are that of micromanaging shit shows. Inconsequential things are inflated to manufactured influences. The strategists do not care to connect unless there is an angle of personal or professional gain. The by-products of the wannabe geniuses thinking they are above their targets are perverted presumptions and massive condescension, with an emphasis on the “con” prefix. Not every hayseed is a mark. Plenty of fat cats are as well. Patronizing is a two-way street.

With the one-upmanship of “spend to start” and “spend to stop them,” the rinky-dink stuff is soon over. Framed in comedic setups and montages, frivolous millions are poured into Deerlaken and the PAC influences crop up next. At a fancy fundraising party in New York, the out-of-his-element Jack mildly unloads on how stupid the preening glad-handing stage is. Even that emboldened and honest truth doesn’t change the deep-pocketed donors. No one bats an eye and that’s not good. The insanity of the movie within this system is shocking, even in farce. The course of all this is a financial food chain all its own, one where, during the very telling end credits of Irresistible, a research subject poeticizes “money lived happily ever after reveling in its influence in politics.” The real question should be what shady sunset does the money ride off into.

Gary Zimmer points towards the crowd from a stage with two mayoral candidates
Image courtesy of Focus Features

There is an examination with Irresistible of comparing the end result to the process. On the eve of the climactic election, Zimmer comes right to Hastings telling him his chase is about extremely simple math behind all the streamers, fireworks, and media mound. The goal is to outvote the other person by merely one vote. Screw all the analytics and polling when the ballots open. In his experience, the tawdry theatrics are forgotten when there’s a winner to celebrate. That is all the more reason why the perceived importance of the result, even for a small-town mayoral election, is maddeningly worth the quality of the chase.

The cog of the dramatized machine in Irresistible that comes out the cleanest and most dutiful is John Q. Voter. The “fickle mob” public are the ones who must be discerning enough not to snort the spin or guzzle the cable TV conjecture. It would be easy just to slap a “satire” label on this movie and take none of it seriously. That would be a mistake. Stewart and company play us all because we, the people, deserve to be played. Yet, it still has a stance begging whoever is watching not be a part of any future blame. Color that as hope out of the shocking sarcasm.

There are places in Irresistible where the mockery is as thin as a pesky mosquito’s wings as it draws patriotic blood and passes on diseased ideas. Other spots are as thick as quicksand made with indomitable behaviors that seem insurmountable to rescue if this was the real thing. Preposterous is the point. If you think you have the movie all figured out when it debuts on streaming platforms on June 26th, you have another thing coming.

Bring it all back to Seger. The grand game is exposing the hypocrisy and Irresistible builds to the swindle of swindles to make this very valuable point, one prominently placed now in an election year. If you have an open mind, which can be a challenge for far too many folks on the swinging national pendulum of personal politics, you may come to enjoy the razor-sharp cut of your Stewart’s biting jib. Irresistible becomes an immediate pre-election time capsule and a deserving place for rubbing our nose in our own shit, forcing us to see our gullibility, inaction, and ignored responsibilities before history repeats itself… again.

Director Jon Stewart observes a scene through a viewer
Image courtesy of Focus Features

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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