Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is a typical liberal elite, the kind they grow in labs somewhere along the coast. He dresses well enough to look like he has taste, works at a job that makes him enough money to look like he’s a success, and tosses around French words as if they mean something they don’t. When he swoons over a plate of haricots verts, he asks Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) if he’s ever had the dish. “Green beans?” Hastings responds a little perplexed, “Sure.”

But next to Zimmer is a glass of deep red wine. If Zimmer knew anything about anything, then he’d know that a nice Sancerre would better enhance the fresh veggie’s brightness. Then again, Zimmer isn’t one for culture. If he were, he wouldn’t walk into a German-themed Brauhaus in the middle of Wisconsin and order a burger and a Budweiser. The King of Beers doesn’t reign in Wisconsin. Pabst or Miller does. He could also scan the number of tap handles next to him and order a helles to pair with a more appropriate schnitzel.

You don’t have to spend too much time with Zimmer to realize he’s not one for cues. Most of what he knows of the Midwest comes courtesy of Fox News. And most of what he knows about male/female relationships probably comes from the movies. When Hastings’ daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis), a woman 25 years his junior, befriends him, Zimmer assumes something romantic is around the corner.

Only in the movies, Zimmer, and you ain’t in a Woody Allen picture. This one’s from writer/director Jon Stewart, and he has a few thoughts on dunce heroes like you. As the saying goes, art is the lie that points to the truth, and Zimmer is the butt of Stewart’s joke.

But what is Zimmer doing in Deerlaken, Wisconsin, in the first place? Politics. Retired Army Colonel Hastings is a stand-up guy who just wants a little human decency back in his hometown. His impassioned speech to the mayor of Deerlaken is captured on camera and goes viral. Zimmer, a D.C. political strategist wearing blue trunks, sees an opportunity: If he can get Hastings to run for mayor of Deerlaken as a Democrat, the swing state is as good as his.

As goes Zimmer, so goes the circus—descending on Deerlaken like vultures picking apart a corpse. Archrival Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), playing for the red team, joins in on the fun. It’s not the first time their paths have crossed, professionally or romantically. Though there’s not a lot of room for romance in their relationship, it’s more like they’re power-humping each other up and down America.

Irresistible is a spectacular piece of storytelling, one that is so dedicated to the joke it almost ruins the results. Almost. Brewster has a few tricks up her sleeve, as does Stewart. Zimmer has nothing beyond his ego, his made-to-order values, and the ability to find money. That seems to be enough to win an election these days.

There’s an echo of Cold Turkey, Norman Lear’s criminally underseen satire where a small town gives up smoking for one month to win a cash prize from a big tobacco company. Like Lear, Stewart has a lot to say and knows comedy is the sugar that makes the medicine go down. Most of that sugar comes courtesy of Cooper, a gifted actor who never seems out of place, even in the most ludicrous of situations. And Irresistible is ludicrous, absurd, and out of control. Until it isn’t. Then it’s just politics as usual.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Irresistible (2020)
Written and directed by Jon Stewart
Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Jon Stewart, Lila Yacoub
Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Brent Sexton, Will Sasso, C.J. Wilson, Mackenzie Davis
Focus Features, Rated R, Running time 111 minutes, Opened via VOD June 26, 2020.

The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 27, No. 45, “The lie that points toward the truth.”