John Stewart has thrived at sharply skewering political ineptitude during his tenure on The Daily Show, operating as a critical voice while paving the way for other satirical correspondents. Since moving on from the program, Stewart has engaged in a multitude of artistic platforms, including an emerging directorial career launched by 2014’s Rosewater. Now stepping into the political comedy field that he once mastered, Stewart’s latest Irresistible is a bizarre misfire despite its promising agenda.
Irresistible follows Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell, who worked on The Daily Show early in his career), a Democratic political executive searching for avenues to gain middle-Americans’ interest. After witnessing an inspiring town hall speech by retired marine Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), Zimmer moves to the small Wisconsin town to run his campaign against Republican rival Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne).
Stewart’s film is a much-needed change-of-pace for the genre, admirably attempting to pointedly criticize the United State’s flawed political infrastructure. His script takes aim at White House elites’ ambivalent disdain towards their voter base, viewing their behind-the-scenes mucky mind games from both spectrums. I appreciate how Stewart cleverly implements Zimmeran’s elitist perspective throughout the narrative, viewing the townies as aw-shucks folksy simpletons the way a jaded executive would. This dynamic slyly builds to a third-act twist that cleverly eschews the audience’s preconceived notions, giving much-needed purpose to its simplistic character design.
Settling into the executive roles with ease, Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne are a joy to watch as dynamic love/hate rivals. Carrell feels tailor-made to play Zimmerman’s dismissive know-it-all personality, acerbically delivering bitting lines with a smarmy arrogance. His routine meshes well against Byrne’s well-tuned deadpan energy, with the two generating the film’s only laughs through sheer talent.
Considering Stewart’s wide-ranging ability and knowhow, Irresistible’s perplexing lack of presence behind-the-camera is a letdown to witness. His direction feels passive and stiff, suffering from bland visuals and a jumpy sitcom-esque score that plays moments too broadly. Stewart has acted as an outspoken lightning rod throughout his career, yet his film lacks the bite to examine its subject matter, saying little outside of generally obvious critiques.
Irresistible’s woeful swing-and-miss attempts at humor derail any of the project’s good intentions. Stewart’s attempts at capturing the awkward interplay between elites and average joes are stilted, with the script largely leaning on offbeat moments that are conceived without much wit. I can’t help but feel like there should be a more brazen version of this project, one that simultaneously condemns and satirizes the lingering disconnect with emphatic barbs.
Irresistible keys its focus towards vital subject matter, but lacks the sharp precision needed to properly satirize the ambivalence of our political infrastructure.
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