By: Kevin Jordan
The United States Supreme Court has made more than a few boneheaded decisions throughout its not-so-illustrious history. Google “bad supreme court decisions,” grab a very large cup of coffee, and get comfortable for hours of eye-opening reading. The best part of that search is it does not matter where you fall on the political spectrum; there are plenty of pieces written from every political bent about all of the bad decisions. Personally, I fall on the side of not fucking over our democratic republic’s election system, so I consider Citizens United v. FEC to be one of the worst decisions of the court’s history. Irresistible is a satiric look at the consequences of that decision wrapped in a what-if scenario.
What if there was a retired Marine colonel who became a dairy farmer in rural Wisconsin and who also defended immigrants? In real life, that person is a unicorn, but in this movie he is Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper). Political campaign consultant Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is shown a YouTube clip of Jack lecturing the mayor of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, about protecting everyone in the town during their hard financial times, not just the white folks. After consulting on the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, this video is catnip to Gary, who decides he can make Jack into the new poster child of the Democratic Party.
Gary flies out to meet Jack and convinces Jack to run for mayor against incumbent Republican Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). From there, the film leans full-tilt into displaying the absurdity of a political campaign, especially in a town of only a few thousand people. Gary brings in his full team, lines up big-money donors, and even baits his rival Republican consultant, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), into pouring money and publicity into Mayor Braun’s campaign, all with the objective of garnering national attention. Does Gary care one wit about the actual politics of Deerlaken’s people? Maybe a little, but Faith sure as shit doesn’t, and she is not shy about it.
As the movie progresses, so does the level of craziness Gary and Faith stoop to for the sake of party and future campaigning. Jack is relegated to the background for much of the campaign, with his daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) filling in as liaison for much of the campaign. As the days and weeks roll by, we see pamphlets, slogans, data analytics, demographic breakdowns, polling trends, and TV ads. Oh, the TV ads. On the pro-Jack side, the ads wrap themselves in patriotism and aw-shucks-down-on-the-farm-home-living. On the anti-Jack side, the terrorists are coming for you and the apocalypse is nigh. I know this movie is satire, but it’s hard to decide whether to laugh or cry at a movie that is arguably less satirical than real life.
Eventually, we reach the end of the campaign – voting day – where the film puts the final exclamation mark on its view of post-Citizens-United campaigns. There are lessons to be learned by both Gary and Faith, but the film lets both of them (and our two parties) off the hook, simply sending them on their way to the next campaign(s). Granted, we never expected introspection from Faith, a monster who would punch a baby for a poll bump. But, it’s a little disappointing to see Gary look bewildered for roughly six seconds before simply shrugging and moving on, since he seemed to have a shred of conscience at points throughout the film. Even more disappointing is realizing what the film was missing the entire time – bite.
Written and directed by Jon Stewart, one would expect a much more searing takedown on the issue of campaign finance considering everything we saw from him during his Daily Show years. The satire and commentary were there in the film, but presented in a fairly sterilized bubble seemingly designed to be as inoffensive as possible. Which is not to say the film isn’t entertaining, just to say that you will be disappointed if you are hoping for a political heavyweight of a film. I appreciate that Stewart did not try to tackle multiple political issues, choosing instead to stay focused on campaign finance and subtly weaving small jabs throughout the film at many of those issues that so divide us today. If nothing else, the film was quite politically correct.
Rating: You can ask for a couple of dollars back, but the Supreme Court says corporations get to keep all of it.