It was going to be perfect. Just in time for the crux of the 2020 campaign season, the coastal cognoscenti would come out with a feature movie -- directed by one of the true oracles of the zeitgeist, and starring one of the most relatable stars of the box office -- that would explain to Flyover Country: We get you. We really get you.
But it hasn't worked out that way. The curiously titled Irresistible is anything but. It's a bad movie, and one that clearly illustrates they really don't get us, rather than serving as a wink that they do. If you pay $20 via video on demand as I did out of curiosity to see whether the Hollywood elite actually have changed their tune about "those people out there," it'll be a huge waste of your time and money.
Set in the mythical rural Wisconsin town of Deerlaken, written and directed by Comedy Central icon Jon Stewart, and starring Steve Carell of The Office and credible movie performances such as in Beautiful Boy, Irresistible was supposed to show that filmmakers now understand the people in the heartland who stunned the world by making sure Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.
This film (which debuted recently and is still being heavily advertised) would show that the arrogant tastemakers on both coasts were willing to implicitly claw back the shameful campaign episode in which Hillary Clinton called middle Americans a "basket of deplorables." And there was no accident involved in setting Irresistible in Wisconsin, a state that the Democratic presidential candidate deigned not to visit before the 2016 election and that ended up turning on her.
In fact, in Irresistible, Carell's fictional character is Gary Zimmer, a D.C. political consultant whose last job was to steer Clinton into the White House. So if anyone in the real world would have recognized the errors in her campaign post mortem, it would have been a Zimmer. The movie's protagonist discovers a candidate in the Badger State hinterlands who could provide him a path to career redemption, a widowed farmer and retired Marine who goes viral in a video of his town-hall appearance defending immigrants' rights -- in Wisconsin.
Stewart wants you to believe Irresistible demonstrates a strategy that actually could help Democrats win Flyover Country states that Clinton so disastrously lost in 2016: Appear to accept heartland voters on their own terms through candidates that seem to represent their values but are actually a Trojan horse for an ideology they would regret swallowing in reality.
Ironically, the main problem with Irresistible is it can't help underscoring that Hollywood really has no clue what we're about out here, even though the point of the movie is to assert the opposite. It's an insult to flyovers right from an early scene in which Carell is on a plane to Wisconsin, having to look up the state entry in Wikipedia and watching an online video of the Ice Bowl championship game in 1967 that made the Green Bay Packers iconic. Upon landing, he switches the radio on his rental car from the "Rhinestone Cowboy" it was playing to the soothing voice of Terry Gross on NPR.
And so on. About the only dig missing in a movie supposedly offering an olive branch to the middle of the country was a farmer's-daughter joke after Carell's character first beheld the "candidate's" comely offspring, played by Mackenzie Davis.
Even the New York Times, which has never liked anything about Flyover Country except when we slip up and do something to resemble Manhattan, couldn't stand Irresistible. "Trafficking in the elitism it purports to deplore, [the movie] presents a homespun cliche of Middle America, where Wi-Fi is like gold dust and political ads scream with flags and fear-mongering," read the newspaper's review. It's "a lecture on old news."
To be fair, Irresistible does toss a few appreciative crumbs at us. When Zimmer's opposite in the movie, a Republican political consultant played by Rose Byrne, makes fun of Wisconsin as "a place where the s--- you skim off milk is considered a food," Carell's character defensively counters, "They are called 'cheese curds.'"
But these few bits of genuine homage don't make up for fundamental bad assumptions and huge blind spots in Irresistible. And the biggest error shows just how askew this movie is. Its premise conflates the body politic of the heartland with only people who live in the country -- "country" as in Green Acres.
"We have to get the rural voters back into the tent, even if just a little bit," Zimmer says in explaining why he's parachuted in from Washington to help a guy make a run for small-town mayor.
But of course, it's not just rural residents of Flyover Country who have been up in arms about politicians for years. It's many of us who live in small towns and suburbs and some or the biggest cities in America, not just out between the fencerows.
And if only a few hicks left over from central casting of Petticoat Junction were taking umbrage at how the Gary Zimmers of the world treated us, they wouldn't have bothered to make the movie.