The world’s most powerful government crippled by a virus. Police tear-gassing non-violent protesters but tolerating right-wing militias. The Arctic reaching Arizona-level temperatures. If humanity makes it through all this, there’ll be so much material for political satirists. Sort of makes you wish Jon Stewart were still around with The Daily Show. But wait—it turns out Stewart wrote a movie for this political moment! And it’s a satirical comedy! Ye gods, the planets have aligned and Irresistible has descended from the heavens! Of course it’ll be good; what could possibly go wrong this year?
Much like 2020, Irresistible starts off with promise. There are three major parties at play in the story: Republicans, Democrats, and the small Wisconsin town of Deerlaken. After DNC strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) comes across a video of retired Marine Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) standing up for immigrants’ rights in Deerlaken, he flies out to Wisconsin to convince Jack to run for mayor, hoping that the Democrats can use his image to win over more heartland Americans. Shortly after his arrival, RNC strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) shows up to throw a wrench in Jack’s plan—to attack Jack and hijack his track back to the voter pack, if you will.
Stewart makes it explicit from the onset that this movie isn’t punching down by mocking small-town Americans or stating the obvious by calling out the Republican Party. For the most part, Irresistible stares condescendingly at Democrats and corporate news media, which is a worthy goal for someone of Stewart’s caliber: in a time when Americans are latching onto corrupt, fallible voices to save them from even more corrupt, more transparently fallible voices, it’s important to keep the self-proclaimed saviors in check. As a writer, Stewart sets up the blueprint for a good satire.
As a director, it’s clear he’s in humanizing mode. He has a penchant for dwelling on reaction shots of Deerlaken’s residents, beleaguered by the political infighting in their little town. His POV exudes sympathy: Irresistible’s concern for its worn-down Wisconsinites is reminiscent of Stewart’s concern for 9/11 first responders, whom he’s been fighting for in Congress for years. If there’s one accusation that can’t be levied against Stewart’s work here, it’s that his heart isn’t in the right place. Well, at the very least, he seems to think his heart is in the right place. Stewart tried to do a good thing with Irresistible, and that intent is a good thing itself.
Now that I’ve said something nice, let’s cut to the chase: Irresistible sucks. I cannot imagine a movie that would be more ineffectual for this political moment. That’s not entirely Stewart’s fault—the movie was shot in 2019, and to be fair, the world has changed drastically since then—but if he’s as attentive to contemporary issues as he’s claimed to be his entire career, he’ll recognize how badly it’s aged.
For starters, Irresistible isn’t very funny. There are three types of jokes that get decent mileage: quiet-part-out-loud news segments, in which broadcast networks tell their viewers what’s actually happening; non-political jokes, which are usually edited around to land with good timing; and a clever meta-joke where all the small-town extras have names that everyone seems to know. Other than that, you’ll have to make do with lazy reference humor and insultingly obvious political jabs. It’s the kind of stuff you expect to see from a #Resistance twitter reply, not from the mind of a historically funny comedian.
More damning is that Irresistible utterly fails as a satire. Skewering the Democratic Party is indeed a worthy goal, but Stewart barely leaves a mark. He portrays DNC strategist Gary and his cohorts as—at worst—well-intentioned, coastal elite dweebs that too easily miss the forest of progress for the trees of pleasing donors. Yes, a democracy controlled by wealthy interests is bad, as Irresistible is keen to remind you two hundred times, but there are so many more contingent factors that the movie bewilderingly ignores. It seems to believe that if we got money out of politics and learned how to better communicate across the aisle, we’d be on the straight and narrow to a healed America. Its silence on related issues is conspicuous.
And then it’s complicit. The problem made most transparent by contemporary circumstances is Irresistible’s use of people of color—and of their suffering—as props. The initial video that attracts the DNC to Deerlaken makes a show of decrying racist voter ID laws, but the subject is unceremoniously dropped for the rest of the movie, along with the topic of race wholesale. It’s worse than dropped, really, but it’s difficult to dissect Irresistible’s treatment of race without spoiling a major plot twist at the end. Just know that the movie is dismally unconcerned with how race factors into money-poisoned democracy or how the Democratic Party perpetuates racial oppression. Real-life Democrats wearing kente cloth in lieu of pursuing racial justice is better satire than anything this movie accomplishes. In a way, Irresistible was released at the best time: now, more than ever, we can dismiss this as spineless dreck with little to add to the national conversation.