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  Movie Reviews  

Irresistible

At first glance, it might appear that Irresistible is going to be just another political comedy generated by progressive-leaning filmmakers to salve the still-stinging wounds left by the 2016 election. However, for those expecting a hatchet-job directed at President Donald Trump, Irresistible offers an opportunity to be surprised. Not only is this not a partisan attack on the party in power, it takes a different road to offer a commentary about the 2020 political climate. The movie offers a reminder that it's people not slogans and associated claptrap that form the spinal cord of America's democracy.

The movie starts out with a recap of what happened on Election Night 2016, as if the reminder is needed. For Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), who had a position of importance in Hilary Clinton's nest, it was a thorough dressing-down and humiliation. We rejoin him several years later on his latest scheme - venture into deep red territory in search of the mythical beast: an independent who can run as a Democrat in a local election and defeat an incumbent Republican. Although the election won't have much meaning from a tactical standpoint, it could be a big symbolic boost and will attract national media attention and stir up spending. The main player in Zimmer's political wet dream is retired marine colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) who is caught on video giving a heartfelt speech about human rights at a Deerlaken, Wisconsin town council meeting.

The movie is not, however about Hastings' come-from-behind surge against Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). There's a twist here that turns everything on its ear and proves that perhaps small-town residents of "Rural America. Heartland, USA" aren't as gullible as Big City operatives might think they are. The film's strength is the way in which it portrays the generally non-political residents as real people and the political animals - Zimmer and his Republican opposite, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne in a delightfully scenery-chewing performance) - as caricatures. The first part of the movie is a fish-out-of-water tale with the preening elitist Zimmer having to endure the Spartan accommodations and folksy ways of Deerlaken.

Some will no doubt be disappointed that writer/director Jon Stewart, who will always be best-known for his lengthy run as the host of "The Daily Show," keeps most of his knives in the drawer and those he brings out are dull and pitted. This isn't a hard-edged or particularly nasty film. Its political satire is even-keeled, attacking the system as an entity rather than either party in particular and, any time there's a jab at Republicans, be sure that a counterpunch at Democrats is right around the corner. Stewart has no interest playing on the same blacktop as Armondo Iannucci's blistering In the Loop. Instead, he's closer to Frank Capra. The thing is, it works.

No one in the cast of Irresistible will be in line for an Oscar nomination because everyone is playing comfortable roles. Carell allows his likability to peek through in order to keep Zimmer from becoming insufferable but the guy is convinced he's the smartest person in the room. Rose Byrne captivates with her catty, take-no-prisoners performance but she's relegated to a supporting part. Chris Cooper has little difficulty portraying someone whose salient characteristics are "decency" and "reticence." Supporting players include Mackenzie Davis (as Diana Hastings, Jack's daughter) and Topher Grace (as one of Zimmer's underlings).

Maybe it's because following politics has become such a dispiriting and unrewarding hobby that the opportunity to watch a movie without an obvious partisan agenda is as welcome as it is uncommon. Stewart may be a Democrat at heart but he works overtime to keep those leanings from showing up in the movie. Irresistible reminds us that politics are much different on a local level than a national one and that the system works best when it's about people and policies instead of fund-raising and mudslinging. At times, the movie is a little formless and there are stretches when it drifts rudderless but, overall, it works like a modern fable and the ending serves up an ample helping of just desserts. The conclusion is optimistic - a word almost never found in close proximity to politics.

© 2020 James Berardinelli

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