Written By: François-Noël Vanasse

Jon Stewart wrote and directed a Steve Carell movie about politics and it’s just okay.

Irresistible (2020) is deep down a wonderfully cynical diatribe about money in politics and the hollow two-facedness of politicians and politicos. But it has wrapped itself in a story that paints much of the film’s target audience in an uncomfortably bad light. Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), a Democrat campaign manager, is reeling following an unexpected defeat in the 2016 US…Campaign manager Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) reeling after an unexpected defeat in the 2016 US Presidential election finds what he thinks is a unicorn in retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper). After seeing a YouTube clip of Hastings delivering a speech defending Immigrants rights during a town hall meeting, Gary travels to remote Deerlaken, Wisconsin in order to convince Hastings to challenge the incumbent Republican mayor as a Democrat in the upcoming Mayoral election. A media frenzy and rival fundraising campaigns ensue when his efforts are matched on the Republican side by campaign manager Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne).

The film becomes a fish-out-of-water story about slick Washington insiders failing to connect with smalltown voters that drowns out much of the movie’s genuinely salient points. Faith’s campaign of fear vs Gary’s campaign of guilt, pollsters and analysts failing to see the forest for the trees, and the complicity of the news media whip everyone up into a frenzy. The film’s real target, though, is the deeply corrosive effect of the “permanent campaign” and the perfectly legal black hole of money it has become. But they’re drowned out by the mildly funny fish-out-of-water stuff which asks us to, at first, sympathize with Steve Carell until the film wisely throws him under the bus too little too late.

This film has a couple must-watch moments peppered throughout, however. The opening montage of Presidential candidates old and new parading through Midwest diners set to “Still the Same” by Bob Seger is breathtaking. The CNN and Fox News parodies that are interspersed throughout the film blow SNL at its best right out of the water. The wit at play is mouthwateringly dry. And, of course, lawyer and former FEC chairman Trevor Potter’s wry interview during the film’s end credits which puts the whole thing into perspective.

This feels like a typical silly political comedy. It’s expected for it to take potshots at both sides and come down ultimately on the message that people are human and humans are good. But Irresistible made me take a hard look at some of the assumptions I made going in and why I sympathized at all with Steve Carell’s character. The movie asked me to let go of my sympathy and to question the very system that engenders the sportsification of politics as a game played with opposing teams. From what I’m seeing in written reviews of this movie, critics are having a tough time letting go too. It’s hard to be called the villain in a movie you wanted to love. But it’s important to recognize truths when you hear them. 

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