It’s a crisp fall day in New York City. The leaves are just starting to turn into their vivid blend of red, yellow, and orange. He wakes up in his lovely Manhattan apartment and pours himself a cup of coffee. It’s so hot that he burns his tongue as he reads the front page of The New York Times. They’ve written about it again. Another story about a small rural town in Wisconsin that chose red over blue last November. This small town and its economically anxious citizens played a part in the global shockwave over the results of the Presidential election.
He furrows his brow and looks out the window at the vast New York skyline, a neverending jungle of steel and glass. He knows what he must do. Yes, he must return to politics! His beloved turn on late night television as a comedic pundit must make a comeback! But how? He ponders the question carefully before settling on the concept: a film. A film about American politics, about the great divide, about how money corrupts everything. A film by Jon Stewart: that’s what America needs.
Jon Stewart’s Irresistible is a Capra-esque relic. The script feels as if it had been written in that hazy period after his final appearance on The Daily Show in August 2015 and that ill-fated night in November 2016. The film, set in 2017, focuses on Democratic campaigner Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell). Gary, the so-called grand consigliere behind the disastrous Clinton campaign, is still hurting from the crushing defeat when he sees a viral video of Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) raising hell at a town hall meeting in Deerlaken, Wisconsin to defend the rights of immigrant workers. Gary’s vulture-like instincts lead him to swoop down on Jack and offer him aid in running for mayor. In Gary’s politically shrewd eyes, Jack is the exact kind of Democrat his party needs to succeed in the now Republican-controlled rust belt.
Gary brings in the full might and influence of the DNC, thus attracting the attention of the RNC, who send in their operative: a Nixonian ice queen named Faith (Rose Byrne). She’s dressed in killer heels and ready to lie until she wins. She and Gary have a love/hate relationship that’s made of the stuff romantic comedies dream of – they argue on national television to the point where he steps into her box (she’s mere feet away from him on the same part of Main Street). It’s really only when Gary and Faith go at each other’s jugulars before kissing that the film really works. They might be opposite sides of the political spectrum, but they’re financially secure enough to never let it be a problem for their sexual escapades.
The jokes here fit the kind of world that Stewart has built, and because of that, they feel safe. There’s jokes about Dems loving lattes and hating bad Wi-Fi connections, but also jokes about the NRA’s hatred of Black people who want to own firearms. Deerlaken is a cutesy (read: white) town where everyone gets along and doesn’t care about political differences, and where giving a nunnery a pamphlet about abortion rights could derail a campaign to run for mayor. There’s nothing wrong with this town at all, it’s the kind of cradle of Americana that Capra loved to adore and Lynch loves to scorn. The film focuses on the corruptive nature of super PACs and outsized financial influences on elections with the same kind of energy that can be found on Pod Save America or NPR; politics as sports for the people who only watch the Super Bowl once every five years. This cake of rainbows and smiles about the American political system turns sour in the third act, when one of the most ill-conceived twists in the past several years gets unleashed upon the viewer. It’s not only colossally stupid, but condescending and arrogant. Somehow, it manages to outdo Vice in terms of contempt for its viewers.
Money in politics is bad, right? Money shouldn’t rewrite bills or swing elections or provide platforms to hateful ideologies. That’s about as far as Stewart gets in this film, and from there he slides into privileged idiocy. Irresistible posits that the media is to blame for everything and that the American people, especially ones in small conservative towns that get profiled by writers in The New York Times and The Atlantic, are to be absolved of their actions and beliefs. The film explains away Trump’s victory as one driven by economic anxieties and general disconnect between Democrats and the white middle class. It does not touch on Trump’s racism and xenophobia a single time. It does not touch on voter suppression or gerrymandering at all. It relies on a bullshit fairy tale about the so-called heartland of America concocted by aliens who impersonate human journalists.
Jon Stewart is no Capra. While he shares the same naivety about the innate goodness of the American people, he lacks Capra’s skills as an artist. Irresistible wasn’t planned to come out at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement exploded with a widespread and continued support it had never seen before to the point where a major city is actively committed to disbanding the police department, or when a global pandemic revealed that the ideological selfishness ingrained in American citizens would lead to an obituary section that could reach across from the stormy coasts of Maine to the smoggy skies of Los Angeles. And yet here it is, still disingenuous about the state of America.
At a time when the decline of the American empire unfolds before our very eyes, when a third of the population has decided that they would rather spread a plague and harm others than wear a mask, when the police are openly bragging about their mafioso status and lust to kill Black people, and when Trump and his policies are a danger to every American that’s not a straight white male Christian, Stewart has decided to be a wimp. The evil in the heart of America has always been there, and if anything, the past four years have a brutal reminder of that. The media may have exacerbated it, but greed, selfishness, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and racism were already in the hearts of most Trump voters on that cold November day. They were always a basket of deplorables.
Irresistible is divorced from our reality, and it suggests that Jon Stewart might be too. As Republicans greet authoritarianism with open arms and Democrats undergo an identity crisis driven by generational gaps and financial status, now is not the time for Stewart’s banal and disingenuous points about politics that only serve a specific group of Americans. And if that’s all he has to offer? Then I hope from the bottom of my heart that he finds the finest needle and thread available at Michael’s and sews his mouth shut.
21, born and raised in Boston. Mamma Mia wine mom personality. Jerry Gogosian of the film world.