Jon Stewart’s timing couldn’t be better. In the midst of a raucous primary season and months away from a critical presidential election, what could be better than a satirical look at our political system? Setting the film In Wisconsin, a battleground state in the heartland, is perfect. And focusing on a mayoral contest in a small town named Deerlaken emphasizes how in this fractured partisan climate, no race is too small to overlook.
Steve Carell, whose relationship to Stewart goes back to their days on The Daily Show, is a versatile actor, but he’s best when portraying characters, like Michael Scott in The Office or Mitch Kessler in The Morning Show, egomaniacs who will stop at nothing to get what they want. In Irresistible, he plays Gary Zimmer, one of the architects of Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid. The morning after is like waking up from a bad nightmare, watching Trump bask in the glory of his victory. But political operatives like Zimmer can’t stay down for long. There’s always another star candidate waiting to be discovered.
This one comes from a very unlikely place. A staff member, Evan (Alan Aisenberg) shows Zimmer a YouTube video of Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a farmer, widower, and former marine who blows up a council meeting in Deerlaken, Wisconsin, by fighting for the immigrant community. Hastings doesn’t know it yet, Zimmer tells his assembled staff, but he’s a Democrat. And who better than Zimmer to manage Hastings’ campaign and future? Sure, it’s just a mayoral contest, but small town mayors can rise to national prominence, right?
Hastings has a formidable opponent in the incumbent Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). Residents welcome Zimmer with such enthusiasm, that he immediately feels comfortable and encouraged. Locals give him a nickname – D.C. Gary – and even have his coffee and pastries ready when he wanders into a shop. While the polls show Braun far ahead, Zimmer thinks that perhaps Deerlaken is ready for a change.
Initially Hastings is reluctant to enter a political contest. Hastings’ daughter, Diana (Mackenzie Davis), is all for her father running, but she isn’t on board with some of Zimmer’s tactics. Once Zimmer begins raising Hastings’ profile, however, others begin to take note. Soon his Republican competition, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne, whose appearance, mannerisms, and fashion choices cannot help but echo Kellyanne Conway), shows up, determined to help Braun win reelection. At this point, it’s clear that the candidates and what they stand for matter less than the two political strategists proving they can win an election.
With each side ratcheting up the campaign, more money is needed. Zimmer takes Hastings to New York for a fundraiser on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where the farmer’s “aw shucks” low key demeanor dazzles the crowd and the cash flows. What began as a small mayoral campaign morphes into a juggernaut. Campaign financing, of course, remains a hotly debated issue in our elections, and Stewart places this controversy at the heart of the film. There’s a twist at the end that provides one solution to changing the system. But real reform will need bipartisan support and right now reaching across the aisle seems more daunting than swimming from the U.S. to Europe.
Irresistible will be available for streaming on Friday, June 26.
Top photo: Rose Byrne stars as Faith Brewster and Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer
Credit: Daniel McFadden / Focus Features