In this Political Season, Jon Stewart’s Film is Irresistible

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. 

Chris Cooper stars as Jack Hastings and Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer (Credit: Daniel McFadden / Focus Features)

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. 

Rose Byrne stars as Faith Brewster (Credit: Daniel McFadden / Focus Features)

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.

Mackenzie Davis stars as Diana Hastings and Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer(Credit: Daniel McFadden / Focus Features)

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

About Charlene Giannetti (390 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that completed filming on February 1, 2020. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.