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REVIEW: Election (1999)

November 9, 2009

Matthew Broderick, now on the other end of the high-school society, stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in Election, a witty and occasionally dark comedy about the troubles that can emerge during high school student council elections. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and About Schmidt) manages to find a beautiful balance between intelligent satire and compelling drama in a way that never stops being comically enjoyable. It’s as peculiarly captivating as Little Miss Sunshine and as innocently entertaining as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

Election time for Washington Carver High School is right around the corner and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) already has her eye on the glorious prize– the position of student body president. Tracy hasn’t even the slightest reason to worry. She’s a confident and hardworking overachiever who has become a part of every major organization the school offers; she’ll happily raise her hand to answer any question in any class; she evens arrives to school extra early to prepare to campaign for the student signatures she needs to enter the election- a campaign complete with a corny slogan and a manipulative bowl of gum for enticement. And most important of all, Tracy has no competition in the election (not that that stops her from taking the whole matter as seriously as if it were our nation’s presidential election itself). In fact, there’s really only one tiny tidbit that could potentially harm her chances… She recently got out of a secret, but very intimate affair with a teacher who was subsequently fired after the administration found out.

Enter Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick)- a young teacher whose life has played out just as he had hoped. He’s everyone’s favorite teacher, he’s involved in the social scene of the school, and he’s one of the most highly valued supporters for the athletics department. Tracy Flick just might be the one thing that dampens his days, with her boring and rigid personality that frames her goody two shoes attitude. Even if he can’t explain it, there’s just something about her that rubs him the wrong way.

So naturally, when Tracy becomes the leading (and only) candidate in the election, Mr. McAllister, the student council administrator, can’t help but be disgruntled by her overwhelming involvement in everything. In the hopes of adding a more democratic element to the election, the three-time Teacher of the Year winner convinces injured football star Paul Metzler to enter the race, assuming that his popularity will give Tracy a challenge. And as if by domino effect, a third candidate joins the two opponents. Paul’s sister, Tammy, sees her participation as a perfect opportunity to get revenge on her brother for stealing her beloved girlfriend. Ironically, the student body responds most emphatically to Tammy’s anarchic tendencies and apathy towards school issues.

Tracy’s stress level reaches a whole new level as her desire to win nearly drives her over the edge, Tammy displays her passion for vengeance, Paul shows his embarrassingly pitiful political skills, and Mr. McAllister gets tied up in a complicated affair; all the basics of your typical high school election are carefully mixed for a remarkable end product.

The quirky atmosphere of the small town and its dysfunctional inhabitants never relents and the story utilizes such simple stereotypes in an unconventional way that makes the characters’ interactions a joy to watch. Comedic dialogue and entertaining twists around every corner, this caricature-driven work is wholeheartedly a fun film that will be especially enjoyed by those who prefer intelligent comedies with just a dab of drama. And perhaps most admirable of all, Election introduces a new type of high school comedy that drops the sleaziness and instead develops an experience that engages audiences with a story that creates plenty of laughs for those with the required number of brain cells. Not to mention, if the comedy ever falls short, it’s amusing enough just to draw parallels to the juvenile affairs of the politics of our own government and certain recent presidential elections in the U.S.

three stars

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