This film gets our vote. Writer/Director, Jon Stewart cleverly illuminates the influence of money on campaigns with raw, human comedy. Gary and Faith, (Steve Carell and Rose Byrne) play political consultants, really adversaries in their blood sport campaigning to win elections. Stewart incorporates so many issues. He tackles the hypocrisy of the divide in America and it all leads to money.
Even though you may think where Jon Stewart’s loyalties lie, he points out that there are bad players on both sides of the political spectrum. Stewart hits the mark with issues now escalating with our own upcoming election.
Carell is all bluster as Gary looking to get his mojo back after being humiliated for his handling of the Hilary Clinton campaign. He’s brash and condescending to his staff and everyone. When an aide named Evan shows him the video of a candidate in Wisconsin reminiscent of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” he seizes it as an opportunity he can’t pass up. It’s his chance to groom this man with Midwest Values to become a national superstar.
Stewart toured the state with University of Wisconsin political science professor and author of “The Politics of Resentment”, Katherine Cramer. The goal was to understand every nuance of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans in the swing state. And he exposes so many in detail.
Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) is the low key, former Marine Colonel, farmer, widower who becomes Carell’s star candidate. He’s impressed with Jack’s speech on You Tube about how to save their dying Deerlaken, at the town council meeting. Gary, inspired by Jack’s authenticity, thinks he could be a candidate in the reddest part of Wisconsin who doesn’t know yet that he’s really a Democrat.
Carell plays the political savvy elite to the hilt. He’s a DC denizen who takes a chartered jet to Wisconsin, dining mid air on custom ordered mozzarella balls. Gary lines up renting an Explorer to seemingly fit in with the locals. But has to have those Bose speakers to suit his taste as he drives to Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Stewart uses the same country western song coming from Jack’s pickup truck, and then in Bose quality in Gary’s rental to accentuate the difference. Gary’s requesting a high floor in a 2 story rooming house with no elevator over a bar, then ordering a burger and a beer put his city boy expectations on display.
From the get go out the door the next morning, he’s greeted by name by everyone. Even, Bakery owner Ann (Blair Sams) who is so quaint you could faint, has his coffee waiting the way she thinks he likes it, and plies him with streusel he tries unsuccessfully to refuse. The scene with him in the car stuffing it in his mouth groaning with pleasure as if having an orgasm is absolutely hilarious.
Gary meets Jack on his farm and sees his daughter, Diana, (Mackenzie Davis) for the first time with her arm up a cow. Gary seems disturbed by what he sees, but is instantly smitten, not by the cow, but by Diana. Since leaving as host of The Daily Show, Stewart has experience living on farm which provides plenty more fodder for his political satire.
Talking with Jack and Diana, Gary convinces the colonel to run for Mayor. Jack hesitates and says he’ll only do it if Gary runs the campaign, but not from New York, from Deerlaken. The campaign is modest and quaint at first with Jack announcing his candidacy in a video shot on the farm with cows in the background. It’s funny how Gary breaks up the group of too many black cows together to make sure it makes for better optics.
Jack’s daughter, Diana, is devoted, dutiful and a quick study taking in all she’s learning from Gary about campaigning. Mackenzie Davis does a great job becoming the most respected and trusted liaison between Gary and her father. She’s also the one who keeps Gary informed about what works in the town and how to deal with the people.
What’s the mother’s milk of politics? Money. Gary takes Jack to New York to parade him in front of Manhattan liberal elites as potential donors to the campaign. Cooper’s Jack, is incredibly effective as the seemingly intimidated truth teller who calls them out about money and politics. Gary is blown away with how well that worked so he now has plenty of bucks to work with.
Now that the money is flowing in, the Republicans take notice and they send in their big gun, Faith Brewster. Rose Byrne is spot on as Gary’s Republican counterpart. She’s slick, smart and ruthless, and it doesn’t hurt her image in this film that she looks like a mashup of Ivanka and Kelly Ann Conway. There’s no question she and Gary have a lot of history. Over coffee, she says “Crushing the last piece of hope in your eyes gets me off.” They make a raunchy bet about who will win the election, and it’s game on!
Polling takes a hit in this film. Polling expert, Kurt (Topher Grace) displays attitude and puffs up his ego, even when his crystal ball is cloudy. Plus the unregulated and limitless money that flows through PAC (Political Action Committee) becomes the focal point of the campaign. It garners so much national attention, that the Republicans take notice of this little midwestern town. There’s a scene where Carell as Gary points out the ridiculousness of the PACs and rules governing them.
The best cartoon characters in the whole movie are the millionaire donors for both sides. You get to meet two filthy rich old brothers in wheel chairs and a scary, robotic billionaire all willing to contribute huge sums to help their side influence the election. And what does the money buy? A high tech war room to keep tabs on who’s voting for who. Stewart’s most chilling line in the whole film is when Gary shows his true colors about to release damaging intel. He defends the personal attacks done during campaigns to Diana, explaining that it’s not the politics, “it’s just math, the +1.”
This film includes a collection of likable characters on both sides of the aisle. Stewart has shown considerable development since his first directorial debut, Rosewater. This project shows that he knows his stuff both behind the camera and the script.
Stay for the credits where Stewart appears off-camera meticulously interviewing the former commissioner and chairman of the FEC (Federal Election Commission), Trevor Potter. It’s a humorous, informative and engaging conversation that succinctly explains the issues he’s presented. The timing of this film is no accident with the upcoming presidential race. You can tell how passionate he is about election process. Stewart has created a piece that people from all over America, rural and urban, red and blue, can find Irresistible.
Focus Features 141 minutes R VOD
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