Irresistible (4 stars)

Irresistible

Jon Stewart is behind this sprightly political satire starring Steve Carell and Rose Byrne

Former host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart is firmly in his comfort zone of politically charged comedy for his sophomore film as writer-director (following 2014's Rosewater). With a familiar narrative which sees a DC schmuck rub up against the folksy folks of a cutesy town, it initially feels like something that Garry Marshall or Frank Oz might have given us in the 90s. Glowing with the apparent earnestness of its intentions, don't worry, there's meat on these bones and a surreal streak of comedy that guarantees plenty of big laughs.

Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, an abrasive Democrat strategist who doesn't take well to losing. Crushed by Trump's shock election win, he's keen to 'get the rural voters back in the tent' and excited by the potential of retired marine colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), who goes viral with a passionate speech defending the rights of immigrants. Gary travels to the small conservative town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin to persuade Jack to run for mayor, hoping to groom him for a bigger stage. Taking the bait, Gary's Republican nemesis Faith (Rose Byrne) quickly follows and the town becomes their heavily publicised battleground.

There's predictable humour in Gary's culture clash with his own countrymen as this city slicker deals with dial-up, the lure of fattening food and everybody knowing your name. Stewart has some fun with focus groups, nun puns, a bionic rocket-man, and there's a nice running gag that the same cranky old lady seems to witness all Gary's shameful moments. Carell is impeccably exasperated, Byrne at her most enjoyably unpleasant, and there's plenty of talent in the supporting cast, which includes Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne.

Gary's demented rivalry with Faith adds some welcome spikiness and the fact that the aggressively insincere and self-serving Zimmer is never really painted as the hero in his own story is refreshing. Although Irresistible riffs on old-fashioned feelgood fare, there are other neat subversions along the way. In fact, don't jump to too many conclusions, it's headed in a different direction than you think.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 26 Jun.

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