Jon Stewart has largely been on the sidelines since he bestowed the “Daily Show” chair to Trevor Noah five years ago except for occasional appearances on Colbert’s show and fighting on Capitol Hill for a 9/11 first responders bill.
But over the past two weeks, Stewart has popped his head out to promote his new film “Irresistible,” in a handful of theaters and on demand starting this past Friday.
It stars Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic strategist who becomes enamored with Colonel Jack Hastings (played by a stolid Chris Cooper), a farmer and military veteran from a small-town Wisconsin who is caught on a viral video defending undocumented immigrants at a city council meeting. Carell convinces Hastings to run as mayor of his town as a Democrat. The Republican National Committee flies in a hard-boiled Republican consultant played by Rose Byrne to go head to head with Zimmer. Soon, millions are spent on both sides, the stakes elevated to a national level.
Stewart said the farcical film was inspired in part by the 2017 Georgia House race between neophyte Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and ultimate Republican winner Karen Handel. The two parties spent a record $50 million battling over one single House seat in a symbolic tussle after Donald Trump was elected. (Ossoff is now running for Senate while Handel is trying to win back the seat she lost to Lucy McBath in 2018.)
This film is set in a small Wisconsin town but was actually shot last year in Northwest Georgia including Rome and Rockmart.
The reviews are in and the results are not pretty. The New York Times said it "lumbers and flails." Vanity Fair calls it "satire without teeth, like being gnawed on by baby gums for 90 minutes." NPR's film critic said it "feels exasperatingly out of step with the present moment" and "weirdly comes off as both naive and smug."
Stewart was originally offered to me for an interview but plans changed. I did speak to one of the actors, MacKenzie Davis who plays Diane, the savvy daughter of the Colonel.
Davis knows metro Atlanta well since she spent four years starring in AMC's well-regarded drama "Halt and Catch Fire" from 2014 to 2017, now on Netflix. The 1980s-era series about the tech industry was primarily shot out of studios in Norcross.
Here are a few highlights from my talk with Davis:
What drew her to this film: "I've always admired Jon's point of view and intellect. I thought the script was one of the smartest ones I've read in a long time. It surprised and delighted me."
What she thought of her character Diana, who would occasionally mock Gary: "She was an observer. That was her power: watching these alien forces who moved into her community, for good or bad. She takes a back seat to a lot of the action. She's accumulating and digesting all the information until it's time for her to do something with it. She sets something in motion and sits back and watches whether it was all the right thing to do."
Diana's feelings toward Gary, Carrell's character: "She sees his idealism and ideology undercut by real greed and hunger for power. The ideals become just a way of winning a fight. They're not integral to his world view. He's addicted to the chess game."
Not a partisan movie: "This movie isn't just one side indicting the other. There's more than enough sources of news media that feeds us exactly what we already believe. What I liked about this movie is it isn't partisan. I'm continually baffled by the nature of politics. It's so built to be corrupted in every country and every political race. But there's something about the American system in particular that seems to feed and encourage rotten greed and corruption more than others. It's been mandated."
It's a comedy but...: "I think you'll leave the movie feeling worse about ourselves. There's nothing positive about this. But we deliver the bad news in a nice package. Hopefully it does provide a galvanizing push for people to be more curious about our political system and how all these things are intentionally obscured. They don't want people to understand and be enraged. It's hard to understand. That's where movies and TV come in, to help create an opening to learn about something complicated in a more succinct way."
Canada, eh? "I'm in a funny position. I can't vote in this country. I'm Canadian but I'm subjected and affected by all the inane and horrible decisions made here. I feel very political. What's happening now makes you more political."
With the pandemic and racial reckoning of 2020, does this movie even fit in? "There's a lot of horrific news out there. It's hard. Everything is so interconnected. It's one giant knot. [The corrupt election game] feels less urgent than other things we're talking about now. But it's inextricably linked to what's happening now, where the money comes from and how it's distributed."
What she's doing during the pandemic: "I was supposed to do a TV show about a pandemic but that was delayed. I'm waiting to see when that will happen. I'm wearing a mask, staying indoors, reading and trying not to contract this virus."
Promoting the movie from her home instead of doing the road show: "It's fine with me. It's super convenient. I don't have to leave the house. I'm still in my bathrobe. That's enough."
Favorite Atlanta eatery while shooting here:" I love 8Arm on Ponce. Great small dishes!"
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.