Famed personality Jon Stewart has become known for many things over the course of his career, which has already gone on for thirty-three years. He was once the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, he’s written multiple books, and he’s also made a name for himself as a writer, director and producer. But most importantly, before any of that, he is a political commentator. And after proving his skill with the 2014 critical darling Rosewater, he has now returned with his second theatrical directorial project, this time starring Steve Carell, Irresistible, a satirical look into the inner workings of politicians and how they get people to vote for them, however corrupted the fashion.
Now full disclosure, I don’t think attempting to make this kind of film is a bad idea. In my own personal opinion, I’m willing to give any movie with any pitch a perfect score, but it’s important that they have enough talent and ambition to do so, because I figure it’s much harder to make a good film without one or the other. So no, I don’t think Irresistible was a bad idea from the start, but a great political comedy is a difficult thing to achieve, whether or not it’s directed and written by a famous political commentator like Jon Stewart himself. Like I feel Adam McKay did with his projects The Big Short and Vice, I think Stewart may have tried to do too much too soon, eventually finding himself lost at sea.
I’ve brought up Adam McKay for more than one reason, and as a segue I feel it’s important to say that I like both The Big Short and Vice significantly more than Irresistible, which as I understand it may be something of an unpopular opinion. Both of those films are fairly messy, but I get the idea that Adam McKay had a goal, had all the means to achieve that goal, and did so to the best of his ability. If you want to show Margot Robbie talking about economic crashes in a bathtub, you go right along. If you want to put a false credits sequence halfway through your Dick Cheney biopic, you can do that too. If you want to make a political comedy with Steve Carell while pulling no punches in spite of your reputation…I guess you can do that as well? It’s not like I’m going to stop you, I’m not a producer.
But the thing is, purely by his reputation alone, I know that Jon Stewart can do better than this. I know that if he really tried, Irresistible would be chock full of biting commentary in the form of well-written jokes pulling punches at both Democrats and Republicans, which is clearly what Irresistible wants to do if only it weren’t so dragged down by Stewart’s involvement. Even if Jon Stewart didn’t have such an impressive reputation in this field, I can tell he has the talent to pull the aforementioned punches, because a good handful of lines hit the mark spectacularly, and they provide fairly biting commentary while also feeling fresh and funny. The proof is in the pudding, but there’s just not nearly enough of it. You can’t exactly go halfway with a movie like Irresistible. You just can’t, I’m sorry.
But it’s not even just that Stewart forces us to meet halfway in the comedy department. For whatever reason, he decides to also force us to fill in the blanks with who the film is supporting or denouncing. In doing research for this review after watching the movie, I discovered that Stewart doesn’t necessarily identify as Democratic or Republican, and I’m relatively okay with him being more independent in his own practice than he would be when placing himself into either box, he can identify however he wants so long as he isn’t hurting anybody, but being centrist really doesn’t work in Irresistible. If anything, the film as a whole comes off even more cluttered than it otherwise would have, which is saying something.
It’s really not so much that I disagree with Irresistible portraying politicians as corrupt and wicked and not actually working for the people. A tiny bit of research into American Politics at the very least can tell you that, although part of me feels that portraying politicians largely as humbling idiots would’ve been a lot more charming before recent events took place. Since the beginning, the government has been full of bad, or at best morally grey people, and I’m okay with films coming out in hopes to remind us that this phenomenon is very real and is something we all need to look out for in our everyday lives. The problem is instead that Irresistible is the praxis; a hollow, relatively toothless one at that.
And even if the film wasn’t centrist and mostly unfunny, it would still be cluttered and cheaply made. There were even some editing choices that made me groan out loud because of how obnoxious I found them, and the person I was there with can vouch for that. In the end, very little about Irresistible truly works, which is an actual shame considering which man had the most creative control. Fire some shots, make the people running our government turn and listen. This wouldn’t even make President Trump consider writing a tweet about Stewart, which says a lot more about the film than it would seem out of context. It takes more than a few cues from Adam McKay and his projects, so if you like him and Steve Carell, you may like it fine, though I imagine you’ll see it as an empty shell of what it could have been, as did I and so many others.
Irresistible can be rented on Amazon, Google Play, Apple Video, YouTube, Fandango Now, Vudu, Microsoft Video and RedBox. It is also playing in select theaters.
It is rated R by the MPAA for some violent content, language and brief sexuality.