George Washington really hated political parties.
“The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it,” he said in his famous Farewell Address. “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another. In governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged.”
Wonder what ol’ George would think about the race for mayor in Deerlaken, Wisconsin?
It began innocently enough. Farmer and former Marine Jack Hastings stood up during a city council meeting and defended the town’s undocumented workers. But the speech promptly went viral and, ultimately, drew the attention of powerful Democrat political strategist Gary Zimmer.
And as the political operative listened to grizzled, plain-spoken Jack talk about faith and old-fashioned values, Gary had a growing, revelatory thought: This guy’s the key.
A few years before, Gary had watched his candidate, Hillary Clinton, go down in ignominious flames in the 2016 presidential election—and in so doing, lost to his political spin arch-enemy Faith Brewster. He watched as Faith’s candidate unexpectedly swept through the Rust Belt, capitalizing on the discontent and disenfranchisement of millions. To those voters, the Democratic party had become a bastion of coastal elites unable to connect with the issues of rural America.
But Jack wore a trucker hat, worked with his hands and talked about the Bible like he’d read it before. And he talked like a progressive.
“He’s a Democrat?” someone asks Gary.
“Yeah,” Gary says. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”
Yep, Jack’s the key … the key to reclaiming the White House, to re-establishing the Democratic party in the heart of the heartland.
So Gary decides to fly out to nowheresville—er, Deerlaken—to get Jack to run for mayor and use the election as a testing ground for a new political strategy … and perhaps to groom Jack for national prominence. That’s right: The Democratic machine will throw its weight behind a quirky candidate in a largely Republican enclave.
But as Gary and Jack begin to make a few waves up in Wisconsin, someone else takes notice: Faith Brewster. And she’s not gonna let this little podunk election in a podunk town go forward without a fight.
Irresistible is, obviously, as political as a movie can be. But it aims its satirical barrel not really at any ideology or issue (though some do take a little shrapnel), but rather the political system itself—the abuses it can visit on others, and the ways that it, too, can be abused.
The picture of Deerlaken we’re given is one of beaten-down-but-bucolic small-town charm—a place where everyone knows each other, the pastries are delicious and no one locks their doors, even if those doors are rooms in the local motel.
Everyone is almost preternaturally nice—which contrasts effectively with the crass, sour cynicism we see from Gary and Faith. Jack seems like an honest, deeply principled sort, but his opponent—Mayor Braun—seems like a pretty good guy, too. They may disagree, but the two still like each other just fine. And therein lies one of the movie’s many points: More unites us than divides us. And perhaps if we concentrated on politics without feeding so much into the media-enabling, money-crazy political ecosystem, we’d all be better off.
Well, that’s what the movie says, anyway.
Jack’s faith is central to Gary’s strategy—an effort to reclaim an important “issue” that Republicans have lately monopolized. “Republicans don’t own those values, do they?” he grouses as he talks about, among other things, faith.
We see Jack’s Christian conviction on display in his very first viral video. He points to the local priest and says that the minister “taught me I am my brother’s keeper.” He paraphrases Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you do for the least of us you do for the Lord.” He tells Mayor Braun that he wasn’t checking the IDs of immigrants when they were filling sandbags during a local flood or bringing food to the church potluck, either.
Gary is far less religious: When he makes a reference to walking “into the lion’s den,” Jack tells him about the biblical character (Daniel) who did just that. But Gary understands the importance that many voters place on religion. At one point he paraphrases Abraham Lincoln, saying, “appeal to your better angels,” and a campaign ad declares that Jack is a candidate “driven by faith.”
But as that campaign picks up steam, the pandering to religious voters grows more extreme. One commercial has Jack saying, “America’s greatness and God’s grace? I’d go to battle for those two any day.” An ad is paid for by a group called “Traditional Wisconsin Families for Faith and Freedom.” Another is backed by “Wisconsinites for Religiously Based Compassionate Identity.”
Gary brings aboard plenty of pollsters and statisticians, too. Janet de Tessant, for instance, is in charge of interpreting the demographic and internet footprint of would-be voters: Whereas a typical pollster can tell you if people say they go to church, “She can tell you if they actually go,” Gary explains. When someone asks if what Janet’s probing, invasive research is legal, Janet says, “[for] law enforcement or the eyes of God?”
But Janet makes a grievous misstep during the campaign. Noticing an unusual concentration of single women “deeply interested in reproductive rights,” Janet assumes they’re pro-choice and orders that a bunch of pamphlets (trumpeting Jack’s stance on birth control) be dropped off there. Turns out, the “neighborhood” was actually a convent, and a national news report says the residents were “nun too happy” about the pamphlets.
Gary and Faith hate each other, no question. But their hatred takes on a strange, sexualized aura. When Faith first shows up in Deerlaken, she insults Gary’s abilities, insults his weight and then licks the side of his face. Most of the barbs they fling at each other can be incredibly sexually crass, and the two make a bet that, whoever “wins” the mayoral race will have to perform oral sex on the other for an hour (using, as you might imagine, some very unprintable words as to which regions they’ll be performing those sexual favors).
Gary’s own eye seems to be drawn, though, to Jack’s daughter, Diana. We learn that she’s 28, but that doesn’t dissuade middle-age Gary’s infatuation. Meanwhile, the local baker has designs on Gary. She tells a fellow townsperson that the strategist’s eyes are kinda dreamy.
We see kisses, hugs and caresses of affection, and one massive smooch session seems to be a preamble toward something more. (But nothing critical is shown.) Janet calls out someone for their computer history, telling her that she has three cats “and an intense search history of the herpes virus.”
Gary and a team of tech experts get in trouble for parking outside the local high school (in order to use the Wifi signal there). We hear a few wink-wink allusions to the name of a big Democrat donor, Richard Peeler. Gary compares Jack to Bill Clinton, but “with impulse control.” We learn that someone had a child out of wedlock. Gary makes an obscene gesture involving his crotch = (shocking an elderly passer-by).
A political ad features Jack using a massive machine gun to fire bullets into a lake. “You want to come to Deerlaken, you’ll have to go through him,” the ad tells us.
More than 30 f-words (including one dropped by a priest) and nearly 15 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–tard,” “crap,” “d–n,” “h—,” “d–k” and “p—y.” God’s name is misused a dozen times (once with the word “d–n”), and Jesus’ name is abused once.
When Gary first arrives to Deerlaken, he orders a “Bud and burger” in a local pub in an effort to ingratiate himself with the locals. The owner serves him dutifully, and it becomes Gary’s regular order while he’s in town—even though the owner actually has to bring both in from across the street.
Gary and others regularly drink beer elsewhere, too (though he prefers wine and Scotch), and Jack’s campaign dishes out free beer cozies at a fish fry.
We learn that someone is a recovering drug addict who narrowly avoided jail. Faith smokes a cigarette in a hotel room.
In a flashback of sorts, we see both Gary and Faith spin hype and hyperbole for their well-known presidential candidates. After we hear them both utter a few talking points, the movie suddenly strips away both of their smooth-talking facades and we hear both of them say, explicitly, that they’re lying. “I am actually in this position because of how effectively I lie to you,” Faith says. “I look forward to lying to you in the future,” Gary adds.
That surreal scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. We see and hear plenty of outright lies and, more often, obfuscations of the truth. It’s kind of the movie’s point. An example of the former would be when Faith, on camera, boldly claims that she’s a native of Deerlaken. “I hate her,” Gary says moments later. “She said it and now it’s the truth.” But Gary’s hardly above twisting the truth, either. He creates several super PACs (political action committees) to support Jack’s campaign, even though those PACs and the campaign must legally be separate. To get around such problems, he has his new super PAC volunteers move to the far end of campaign headquarters and refuses to supply them with campaign pastries.
Faith and Gary may be the story’s most obvious liars, but they’re far from alone. We see lots of political pandering and dirty tricks, too. Gary and Faith treat their staffs abysmally and treat Deerlaken residents condescendingly. In addition, Gary’s campaign is particularly obsessed with demographics, which allows the film to shine a light on (at times) the race, age, and gender-based assumptions that fall into play. (When Jack falls behind in the polls, for instance, Gary profanely orders his staff to find him more Hispanics, later offering a very insincere apology to his volunteers for his profane and pretty racist outburst.)
When Gary first sees Diana, she has her arm up a cow’s anus. Faith calls Deerlaken “Turdsville, U.S.A.” (When someone walks by she apologizes insincerely, clarifying that she meant “heart and soul of America.”) A Democrat donor is overheard saying, “What kind of person hunts elephants?”
Irresistible is the latest directorial effort from Jon Stewart, the comedian and longtime host of Comedy Central’s influential comic news recap program The Daily Show.
For more conservative, in-the-know Plugged In readers, that paragraph might be a bit of a dog whistle, indicating that Irresistible might as well be a left-leaning scree.
Indeed, conservative Faith’s take-no-prisoners form of political persuasion paints her as the film’s prime antagonist. But honestly, it’s the so-called “progressive liberal elites” who arguably take the most abuse here—perhaps because Stewart understands that cultural segment well enough to successfully lampoon it.
“Democrats are getting their a–es kicked, because guys like me don’t know how to talk to guys like you,” Gary tells Jack, and everyone—left or right, blue or red, knows it’s true. Gary knows it, too, but he can’t seem to do anything about it. He tries to drive into town listening to “Rhinestone Cowboy” but finally gives up and turns to NPR instead. He encourages Jack to try some of his haricot verts, which Jack instantly recognizes as “green beans” in French but Gary insists are tastier. During Jack’s first press conference, Gary gamely tries to organize the cows in the background. “Don’t put all the black ones in the center!” He shouts. “He’s running as a moderate!”
This movie is less interested in blue-state and red-state ideology than its suggestion that, in some ways, we’ve all been taken in. Party, money and the media have poisoned the well of democracy, Stewart suggests. And some of the movie’s most outlandish twists (as a real-life expert tells us in the end) are frighteningly possible. (Admittedly, many would say the issue of campaign finance reform inherently skews leftward itself.)
But while this overtly political message movie might not have the message some expect (or, at least, it might not be as pronounced), Irresistible sports other R-rated problems that might swing your vote against it.
Often, what we hear is more objectionable than what we see. F- and s-words land on the streets of Deerlaken with dispiriting regularity. Crude sexual banter seems to be almost a currency between the movie’s political strategists. Though the movie obviously is made for adults with some adult, real-world musings, the reliance on unnecessary adult language adds the wrong sort of sting to this satire, too.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.