Irresistible is ex-Daily Show host John Stewart’s second film as director, and a political comedy that plays with your assumptions like a cat playing with a mouse.
Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell) is a Democratic Party campaign consultant who, reeling from the Clinton loss in 2016, sees a viral video of small town Marine veteran Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) delivering a political speech in defense of immigrants and decides he might be the new face his party requires. He travels to Deerlaken, Wisconsin and decides to convince Hastings’ to run for mayor as a Democrat against the town’s incumbent Republican. Determined to use the hype of an otherwise irrelevant election to affect national politics he quickly attracts his Republican rival, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to the town.
Carrell’s slimy behaviour as an ingratiating political operative instantly calls into suspicion the moral core of his motivations, and everything he says and does lays them more bare. Stewart’s direction of Zimmer’s almost staggering condescension towards the townspeople feels like its own form of condescension, but hold back your bile and go with it. Quite often, you’ll wonder how self-aware the film is, but it knows exactly what it’s up to. There are times you’ll think “does Stewart actually think he can pull a Local Hero with this character?” but the film is toying with your expectations and nothing is quite what it seems. Whichever comeuppance you were hoping to see delivered is subverted in a surprisingly witty plot twist. Without spoiling anything, it’s fair to say Hastings’ daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) delivers one of the most satisfying blows ever landed in cinema.
On the downside, the film is a little underwhelming in terms of overall engagement. Carrell’s performance holds it together by sheer sociopathic will, but there’s not much energy or drive elsewhere. It’s light entertainment, its heart is in the right place, and it’s hard to level any particularly strong criticism at it. There are more smiles than laughs to be had but, in the end, it’s still a pretty satisfying little story.