Irresistible (Focus Features, R)

I don’t normally make rote generalizations about movies not being what they used to be, but, well, comedies aren’t what they used to be.

Something like The Hangover might be amusing once, but simply doesn’t hold up like an early Farelly Brothers ensemble film, won’t be immortalized like The Producers or Vacation. In the new millennium, films like Zoolander and The 40-Year-Old-Virgin would become the last true comedy staples, followed by an era of crass celebrity vehicles of diminishing returns, where you forget it exists after seeing it and laugh in the theater partially because of the psychological mirroring which results from being in a room with a bunch of other people who are laughing.

Obviously, I haven’t seen every comedy film made in the last twenty years, but there’s few I have seen that I would watch again. Most, in fact, I find almost uniformly unfunny. There are a few exceptions, but even the exceptions don’t hold a candle to the classics. Irresistible stands as a great example of a funny movie I might watch again, but given the choice between it and a good comedy from previous decades, I’d go with the latter.

No one ridicules the frivolous, image driven money train that is mainstream politics as aptly as Jon Stewart, so anti-establishment progressives will find the narrative attractive. Steve Carrell plays Gary, a vapid political strategist who convinces a farmer and former marine named Jack (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor in his small town. The endgame, it seems, is to galvanize surrounding districts into propping up their own conservative-looking progressives, to create a blue wave in the Midwest to shore up the democratic foothold after Hillary’s 2016 loss. To effectively crush the Republican incumbent mayor, Gary and his team funnel millions into Jack’s campaign, creating a brand more than an authentic candidate.

The film starts out fairly weak, with Carrell’s arrival in the rural town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin an occasion for a bevy of super lame fish-out-of-water jokes. Luckily, it improves once the first act is out of the way, and the political campaigns run by Gary and his rival, Faith (Rose Byrne, mimicking the dead-eyed, emotionally derelict female conservative spokesperson with frightening accuracy), escalates to absurd levels, wryly lampooning the soulless superficiality of popularity-contest campaigns. While someone like Stewart can be expected to make some harsh jabs at the right, he spends more time mocking the back-patting, simpering, self-important liberal Chuck Todd types whose reliance on the status quo is just as strong if not more insidious than that of the Republicans. One of the absolute funniest moments in the film has Carrell throwing a tantrum, stamping his feet and loudly demanding there be more Hispanics present in their publicity before regaining his composure and declaring great disappointment in his own comments, characterizing the outburst as “a learning moment.”

Stewart’s self-aware progressivism and politics of humility make for great satire that actually goes light on the GOP and hard on his own party, and when in full swing will elicit hearty and genuine laughs. Still, the film’s polished, formulaic and uncinematic quality hinders the overall impact. I want to feel like I’m watching a movie, not a long television sketch. If Stewart can refine his directorial skills, he and Adam McKay might finally bring the comedy genre back to life. | Nic Champion

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