At the Movies Blog
An election in a small, midwest town.

Steve Carell (right) plays a character that’s not as nasty, or charming, as he should be.

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Jon Stewart did a decent job on The Daily Show (although he wasn’t nearly as good as original host Craig Kilborne). He wrote and directed this movie, starring his old Daily Show correspondent, Steve Carell. With him and Oscar-winner Chris Cooper — that’s some A-list star power. It’s a shame the script and direction is just a travesty. 

Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a top Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. While looking for a way to capture l working people and farmers in middle America, he stumbles upon an idea. After seeing a viral video of farmer Jack Hastings (Cooper), who gets angry at a Republican mayor (Brent Sexton) in a small Wisconsin town — Zimmer zips over to have a chat with Hastings. He convinces him to run for mayor. 

Zimmer starts helping out at the farm, because that’s apparently what you do when you want to talk to a farmer about a proposal. He also has to deal with a pesky baker who wants to give him danishes, and asks him to make deliveries on the way to his campaign headquarters. It reminded me of Doc Hollywood (Michael J. Fox), but without the charm, or subtle jokes that worked so well in that film. In this, Zimmer just makes rude and condescending remarks about the townsfolk. I guess if you couldn’t beat Trump in 2016, Zimmer would rather work a campaign in 2020 dealing with a town that probably has a population of a few thousand.

The plot thickens when a Republican strategist named Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne, nailing an American accent) shows up. She’s riding high on Trump’s win, and…she feels her best thing to do is to come to this small town so that she can…break into his hotel room and make sexual jokes and banter with him. Not a single conversation they have (or anybody in this movie), feels the way real people talk to each other. And I’d be willing to overlook that if they were saying funny things. They don’t. In fact, there might only be a few jokes in the whole movie that work. Stewart thinks humor is Zimmer trying to film a speech, and being angry about cows in the background making noise, or not being in the right spot. Or a big guy introducing himself in a bar as “Big Mike” and an even bigger guy as “Little Dan” (or whatever names they were).

When this little mayoral race starts to bring in big money from the outside, and some cable news networks start to cover the race, it sort of picks up. But just barely. We also see actors Natasha Lyonne and Topher Grace show up, although they don’t add much to the proceedings.

Interestingly, the topic of immigration comes up; but I don’t recall seeing any actors of color or non-white ethnicities in this. Does that make Stewart a hypocrite? I know when an African American correspondent/writer on The Daily Show, Wyatt Cenac, told Stewart that one bit he was going to do was a bit racist, Stewart went off on him. He screamed and said after his tirade “I’m done with you” bringing Cenac to tears in his office, thinking he was going to be fired. But…that’s another story for another time. I’m only here to attack Stewart for this movie, since it’s so bad.

I’m also not sure why Stewart didn’t tell us anything about the struggles in this town. That would have been interesting. Maybe a quick debate that covered some of those issues. Instead, it was just how these two campaigns were taken over by the big bucks in Washington. And lastly, why didn’t Stewart want to take a side? (Okay, I’ll admit, that was actually a pleasant surprise. I didn’t need to hear a script of Stewart preaching about the big, bad Republicans. He finds fault with both sides).

Instead, Stewart goes for low-hanging fruit. The small town Midwesterns are a bunch of yokels.

All the attempts at humor fall flat. One of the biggest bits is that there’s no wi-fi. Really?

I almost chuckled at a scene where the campaign staff all call each other, when they’re supposed to be calling folks on a list…or the use of a semi-colon on a campaign sign. Oh, there’s a line about somebody combining two different Pacino movies. That actually did make me laugh.

Yet so many times, I’m just not sure why these characters were written the way they were. One campaign manager licking the other’s face? Or, Zimmer makes fun of a sweet old lady who says “Have a good one.”

The movie starts with Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” and it plays again midway through the movie. Is this the only song they got the rights to? Oh wait, when the local farmer is in his ratty pick-up truck, he’s listening to Rhinestone Cowboy, because…yeah, some cheesy ‘70s song is what a current farmer is rocking out to (and he’s got it on later in his truck; Glen Campbell must be his favorite artist). 

My wife (who also hated this movie) guessed the ending mid-way through. And I will give it credit for how it ends. It was kind of clever. It’s just a shame that getting there was such a boring slog.

1 star out of 5. It’s On Demand this Friday.

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