Don't let outward appearances make you lump _Election_ with such shoddy
teen-targeted product as _She's_All_That_ and _10_Things_I_Hate_About_You_.
Despite a cast largely comprised of young adults and an MTV Productions
pedigree, adults will be the ones to truly appreciate the satirical sting
of Alexander Payne's hilarious high school comedy.
The "election" in question is that of student body president at George
Washington Carver High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Ambitious Tracy Flick
(Reese Witherspoon) seems to be a shoo-in, and rightfully so; not only is
she insanely dedicated to her civic duty at Carver, she is also unopposed
in the race. That is, until well-liked student government advisor Jim
McAllister (Matthew Broderick) taps injured football star Paul Metzler
(Chris Klein) to put some excitement into the race and throw his hat into
the ring. Not too long after that, Paul's younger sister Tammy (Jessica
Campbell) follows suit, and Tracy becomes even more doggedly determined to
secure what she feels is her destiny.
>From that synopsis, _Election_ sounds like typical teen fodder. However,
I neglected to factor in some of the wonderfully warped wrinkles that Payne
throws in. Tracy, it turns out, had a torrid affair with a now-fired
teacher who was McAllister's best friend; Tammy decides to run after an
ex-girlfriend (yes, she is a lesbian) redirects her affections toward Paul.
It may seem as if I have divulged some plot surprises, but I haven't given
away anything that isn't covered within the first half hour (at the most).
That Payne can use outrageous twists such as those as a mere starting point
is a testament to his diabolically witty imagination.
Payne's dark comic vision is given pitch-perfect life by his actors.
Witherspoon commands the film as terrible Tracy; her incongruous blend of
wholesome all-American looks and relentless, often maniacal ambition is not
only funny, it's quite scary. The two unknowns playing her challengers,
Klein and Campbell, similarly strike no false notes; their assigned
territory is ditziness and ballsy attitude, respectively, and they are
right on target. What does strike a false note, though, is a domestic
subplot given to Broderick's character; while he does a convincing job as a
whole, he can't redeem a thread involving McAllister's marriage. It fails
too hook as strongly as the high school action simply because the writing
isn't as inspired.
That misstep doesn't prevent _Election_ from being the most biting youth
comedy in recent memory. It is the film that _10_Things_I_Hate_About_You_
claimed, but failed, to be--a dark, wildly entertaining romp that wears its
cynicism on its sleeve and sees no reason wash any of it off.