Sunday, March 25, 2012

#587. Election (1999)

Directed By: Alexander Payne

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein

Tag line: "Reading, Writing, Revenge"

Trivia:  The film was produced in the fall and a freak snowstorm interrupted filming

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the brightest student at Carver High, is running unopposed for class president. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a teacher at the school, holds a grudge against Tracy because she was personally responsible for the dismissal of his best friend, fellow teacher Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik), who was fired when Tracy admitted to having had a sexual relationship with him. In the hopes of wiping the ever-irritating smirk off of Tracy’s face, Mr. McAllister convinces Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), the popular quarterback of the school’s football team, to join the race for President, a move that sends Tracy off the deep end. Before long, this hotly contested election begins to take its toll on both Tracy and Mr. McAllister, with each stooping to new political lows in the hopes of bringing the other to their knees. 

The dynamic energy of Election owes everything to the strained relationship that develops between Tracy and Mr. McAllister, flawlessly portrayed by Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, respectively. It's clear early on Tracy is a determined young woman. When first we meet her, she’s giving away free sticks of gum in an effort to sway voters, despite the fact she was the only one running. The moment Paul enters the race, he becomes the odds-on favorite, leaving Tracy to wrestle with the reality that her unworthy opponent is probably going to win. Suddenly, Tracy, who had been so chipper and perky, turns cold, calculating, and downright nasty. Her frustration is so great that, at one point, she tears all of Paul’s campaign posters off the walls, then allows someone else to take the blame for it. But Tracy isn’t alone in her downward spiral. At the outset, Mr. McAllister was a dedicated teacher who loved his job, the lone adult at Carver High every student could come to for advice. Yet something changes his outlook in a hurry, and that “something” is Tracy Flick. Not only does Mr. McAllister cross a line by encouraging the candidacy of a slow, unqualified jock for the position of class president, but his feud with Tracy will also lead him to betray a good many principles he previously held dear. Realizing the ambitious Tracy has the potential for greatness, while he himself will never be more than a high-school teacher, proves a bitter pill for Mr. McAllister to swallow, and he's made it his life's mission to knock her down a peg or two.  In a movie that demanded strong performances from its leads, both Witherspoon and Broderick get the job done. 

Election has all the elements of an intelligent teen comedy, yet I wouldn't necessarily place it in that category. Most of your typical teen comedies feature moronic adolescents who always find a way to screw things up, but as Election is quick to point out, teens haven’t cornered the market on acting like an ass.


fastfilmreviews said...

Alexander Payne is such an important filmmaker and this film is my #1 reason why.

Dave B. said...

He's really had a string of very impressive films (I'm a big fan of ABOUT SCHMIDT as well).

Thanks for the comment!