Election (1999)

Exactly why I never ran for high school president. Well, that and because it’s just lame to begin with.

Election tells the story of Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a popular high school history and civics teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and one of his students, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), around the time of the school’s student body elections. When Tracy obtains a nomination for class president in the school election, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title, and tries his best to stop her from winning.

High school elections are probably the dumbest things I ever had to go through throughout my 4 years of high school because it’s the same old shit every single year. People promise to change the school, they promise to listen to what you, the student has to say, they promise to talk with the principal about certain changes to the school that will never, ever happen, and when that’s all said and done, it’s onto the next year, and the year after that, then after that, and then so on and so forth. As you can tell, I hate high school elections and this film reminded me exactly why.

Co-writer/director Alexander Payne takes what we usually expect from “teen comedies” and gives us something a hell of a lot smarter and dark than anybody would expect. Payne starts this flick off as if it was a normal, every day type of high school comedy with all of the goody-goodies, the hard-working teachers, the goofy jocks, and of course, the lesbian girl that nobody really likes or wants to be around. But when the actual elections come around in the film, that’s when things really start to get interesting and very mean-spirited, but in a good way.

At its core, this film is a biting satire about how teachers don’t really like the students and how students don’t really like the teachers. It’s pretty much one of those unsaid understandings that are always around in high school. Of course, there are those teachers that everybody loves and feel like they can go up to and talk about anything with, but mostly, the teachers themselves aren’t as fond of you as you aren’t of them. I’ve learned this throughout all of my 4 years of high school and have realized that the quicker I understand this, the better and that’s when things for me in my high school life started clicking. Then again, a lot of teachers started to dislike for my “deauchy” attitude towards them but it’s mainly because I just knew that there couldn’t be a friendship between me and them. Sounds strange, I know, but that’s how I have lived for so long and that’s how I may always live.

But enough about me, more about this flick that we got here. Payne’s writing for this film is awesome because not only is it funny in the way it satirizes high school as we know it, but also shows us a funny glimpse at how life should not be based on just high school. Sure, sometimes we’re stupid, sometimes we’re mean, sometimes we make dumb decisions that regret the next morning, and sometimes we deserved to be laughed at. But when it’s all said and done, it’s high school and in the end, we’ll be OK. Maybe that’s not the smartest message out there in today’s world, and I can probably bet you that there are about 10 other flicks just like this with the same theme, but Payne’s message hit well and felt like a well-deserved pay-off after all of the time he dedicated to these characters and all of their immoral acts.

My only complaint with this film would probably have to be that I never really laughed all that much, even as much as it wanted me to. Yeah, the satire bites and there is a lot here that’s very honest, if a little too honest, but I still never caught myself with a gut-busting laugh and I think that’s just because it’s too dark to laugh at some of the stuff here. Some character’s lives go into some pretty sad places and even though the film seems to be pointing the finger at them and showing us that “their misery = humor”, I still couldn’t find a way to laugh. I don’t know, maybe I love human beings too much to laugh at their misfortunes but not much here made me laugh like I expected to with a guy like Alexander Payne.

Casting Matthew Broderick in the lead role of Mr. McAllister is an obvious riff on his days as the iconic hookey player, Ferris Bueller, but Broderick brings more to this role and makes it more than just a one-joke character. Mr. McAllister is one of those teachers that thinks he can change every student who ever needs him and loves to be involved with his school in anyway that he can. However, Tracy Flick is a girl he can just not like (mainly because his buddy boned her) and because of this problem he has, his life spirals out of control and you can’t help but just feel bad for the guy. There are plenty of great scenes that actually made me laugh just because Broderick has that great comedic timing that has done him so well, even all of these years later, but there’s a certain amount of honesty to his character that makes you feel for him, even when he betrays his morals (or is it ethics?). Actually, that same honesty could probably be said about another character here as well: Tracy Flick.

Reese Witherspoon is absolute dyno-mite as Tracy Flick, everybody’s favorite (or not favorite) perky, goody goody two shoes that wants to do every single activity and be the face of the high school, just so she can have that it can make her look good for college. Flick seems a bit like an innocent character at first, but after awhile, we soon start to realize that she is anything but and once she starts to find out that she’s going to have to fight for her presidency, that’s when her character starts to get lean, mean, and crude, unlike any other character Reese has ever played before. Since Reese has devoted most of her time to lame, chick flick roles, it’s nice to get a reminder of just how awesome of an actress she can be and how powerful her skills no matter who the character is. Tracy Flick is definitely one of her more iconic roles and it’s one that reminded me of plenty of other girls I knew in high school that just bothered me to death. Yep, I’m still at that stage where I look back at all of the bad things in high school but that will probably change within the next year or so.

Chris Klein is pretty good as the dumb jock, Paul Metzler, who gets conned into running against Tracy for president. The problem with this character is that this guy is so goofy, so dumb, that it almost doesn’t seem like this guy is even a human character that we can root for, even if he is the nicest character out of everybody else here. Even as much as I liked Jessica Campbell as his little sister, Tammy, the film never gives her enough screen-time and the rest of the flick, she is sort of just forgotten about until a last-minute montage showing all of the characters and what they’ve been up to as of late.

Consensus: Election may not be as funny as it would like to think of itself as being, but the satire is biting and very honest with it’s three-dimensional characters that do bad things, but you still care for, mainly because of the great performances from the cast, mainly Reese Witherspoon in a role you have never seen her in before. That is, unless you have already seen this flick.



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