Tag Archives: Will Sasso

Irresistible

Hilary campaigners woke up with a tremendous political hangover on November 9th, 2016. Liberals began to realize that they’d been living in bubbles. They were fundamentally surprised by their loss, surprised that so many people across America could vote against their own best interests. Where had they gone wrong? And how do we begin to address that disconnect?

Democrat strategist Gary (Steve Carrell) is disillusioned, like a lot of us. He regroups and refocuses in conservative, smalltown (swing state) Wisconsin, USA where he finds an unlikely candidate in Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper). Jack Hastings likely doesn’t know what it means to go viral, but he has, for an impassioned speech he gave to city council. Gary smells potential: Jack, a veteran, a farmer, a widower; you couldn’t build a better crossover candidate if you tried, and god knows they have. Jack’s a Democrat…he just doesn’t know it yet. It’s just one rural mayoral race, but maybe that’s a foothold the Democrats badly need to expand their base – a Democrat for the heartland, a “redder kind of blue.”

Writer-director Jon Stewart is a master satirist and for a long time he set the tone for how we voiced our discontent, how we parsed and digested the news, how we conquered our apathy and our hopelessness. He may have given up the anchor’s chair behind the desk of the Daily Show in 2015, but he’s clearly got more to say.

Irresistible is about the disingenuous handshake between money and politics. Mere seconds after Gary makes his move to Wisconsin, the other side sends rival strategist Faith (Rose Byrne) to even the odds. If anyone had any illusion that campaigns were about ideals, values, promises, or intentions, it was quickly, summarily, definitively dispersed. A campaign is about math: who has the most money, and how to turn those dollars into votes. It’s cynical as hell, but even with a glossy coat of Hollywood spin, it’s still not half as bad as real life. People don’t matter. They’re not individuals with specific needs and hopes, they’re reduced to “demographics,” a slick political term that divorces voters from their identity. Politicians don’t want to better your life, they want to trick you into believing in them for just long enough to cast a vote. And failing that, they want to trigger you into withholding your vote on the other side. Demographics are equations waiting to be solved, and campaigns hire lots of people to crack those numbers.

Jack represents a “redder kind of blue,” a shade of blue that people who are traditionally red would consider turning pink for. Except even children know that red and blue make purple, and that may be American democracy’s greatest failing. It forces 328 million people to contort themselves into one of two boxes: red, or blue. Both boxes suck and neither one fits anyone perfectly. Worse, though, it creates a dangerous “us” vs. “them” mentality. Its binary nature focuses on what divides us instead of what we share in common. It makes enemies of the other side, when in fact those people are our neighbours, our friends, our kin. We are capitalists. We thrive on choice. The pharmacy sells dozens of brands of toothpaste. The grocery store stocks even more brands of orange juice. You stand in front of the refrigerated case, and maybe you reach for the sweetest juice, or the one that’s locally sourced, or the one with the most vitamins, or the one with the most pulp, or the least pulp, or the cutest carton, or the most memorable commercials, or the healthiest ingredients, or maybe you just reach for whatever’s cheap. Or maybe you bypass the refrigerated section and buy a can of frozen orange juice, from concentrate. Or maybe you prefer the powdered stuff. Or the shelf-stable stuff. Or orange ‘drink.’ Or maybe, and yes this sounds crazy, but maybe you prefer cranberry juice. We need 87 orange juice options but only 2 political parties? Doesn’t that seem a little…crazy? But having that much choice means the brands have to be competitive. They have to care about what you, the consumer, wants. They have to bend to your will, not the other way around. If they want to make money, they have to be the most appealing and offer the very best. But the American political system forces you to choose between two disappointing options. Sure they could put some energy into finding out what you actually need, but instead they embrace the time-honoured American tradition of fear-mongering so you vote for them, or flinging mud so that you don’t vote for the other side.

Anyway, don’t worry, the movie doesn’t actually mention orange juice once. It’s just one of the tangents my mind follows when it’s been stimulated by something thoughtful, and interesting. While some critics didn’t care for it, I enjoyed Irresistible very much. I like Carrell’s charmingly pompous performance, and Stewart’s condescending liberal voice. I did wonder, for a while, what exactly was meant to be so irresistible, but of course the answer was right in front of me the whole time: money. To which Jon Stewart has just one simple message: resist.

TIFF18: American Woman

At first glance, Deb (Sienna Miller) is all-too-easily dismissed. She’s a former teen mom turned grandmother at 31. She’s a mistress whose hot date turns out to be a trip to a sleazy motel room, where she is handed a plastic bag containing either dollar store lingerie or a slutty devil halloween costume (same difference, really). The next morning, we see that she is waking up alone in her own bed, suggesting the motel room was paid by the hour.

At that point, we’re about five minutes into American Woman, and you’re ready to write Deb off.

But don’t. Don’t you dare.

AmericanWoman_02Because Deb is worth more than she even knows, which she stars to discover after her daughter fails to come home one night after a date with her basement-dwelling baby daddy.  A loved one’s disappearance must be life-shattering. Miller lets us see the dissapearance’s drastic effects on Deb in such a restrained and measured way that Deb’s resulting character growth is organic, believable, and most impressively, almost invisible at first. Deb’s evolution is captivating, and the Deb we know by the end of the movie is at once the same core character and a woman whose outlook and attitude have evolved beyond anything I could have ever expected.

I cannot overstate the magnificence of Sienna Miller’s performance in American Woman. She is magnetic and conveys a mix of strength and vulnerability that is as authentic a performance as I can remember. And while Miller is the standout, he excellence is almost always matched by the rest of the cast, including Christina Hendricks as Deb’s sister, Amy Madigan as Deb’s mom, and Mad TV’s Will Sasso as Deb’s brother-in-law. Deb is rightly the focal point but it’s great that the strong supporting characters each get the chance to shine.

The gauntlet thrown down by the cast’s fantastic performances is picked up by those behind the camera, and they are up to the task. Brad Ingelsby’s script is smarter than it has any right to be, discarding obvious answers on a regular basis, and showing off by giving effortless depth to secondary and tertiary characters (including turning an obvious villain into an earnest guy deserving of our sympathy). Director Jake Scott uses care and moderation rather than flash and sensationalism, particularly in a crucial scene at the film’s climax, proving beyond any doubt that less is more. Scott consistently makes brilliant choices even in small details, such as by using visuals and settings to indicate the passage of time, rather than title cards.

The result of all of this individual brilliance, naturally, is a standout character study that can hold its own against anything that TIFF18 has to offer (which I can say with certainty since I saw If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma on either side of it). American Woman is as smart, rewarding and satisfying a cinematic experience as anyone could ask for, making for a film that you absolutely do not want to miss.