Yet another teenage comedy set in an American high school!
However this razor sharp and biting comedy about the politics of high
school has much more in common with the recent anarchic Rushmore
rather than more vacuous and light weight films like She's All That
and its ilk. Election is also everything that the somewhat
disappointing Rushmore aspired to be but failed to achieve.
This smartly written and archly funny black comedy is set in
Omaha's Carver High School. Tracey Flick (Reese Witherspoon, from
Pleasantville, etc) is the sort of ambitious overachiever who makes
Rushmore's Max Fischer seem positively half hearted. She is involved
in every conceivable school activity and is possessed with a ruthless
Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick, the original Ferris
Bueller) is a career teacher and student advisor, who has devoted all
his energies and time to guiding his students. He has thrice been
voted teacher of the year, a record at Carver High. But there is
something about the compulsive, not so naive Tracey that this popular
and dedicated teacher dislikes with a passion. When she stands
unopposed for the presidency, McAllister decides to teach her a
lesson, with unpredictable results for all concerned.
He convinces popular but dim-witted jock Paul Metzler (Chris
Klein, in a role not too dissimilar to the one he recently played in
the raunchy adolescent comedy American Pie) to run against her.
Further complications arise when Paul's angry, alienated lesbian
sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) also mounts her own campaign, although
she has no real interest in the politics of the school, or in Carver
As the increasingly vicious campaign and the dirty tricks hot
up, the lines between right and wrong become blurred. McAllister's
lectures about morals and ethics resonate ironically throughout the
rest of the film as he tries to subvert the democratic process and
prevent Tracey from winning the election. Meanwhile, McAllister's
personal life becomes increasingly confused, which leads to him making
even more costly errors of judgement.
Broderick slowly but surely trashes his good guy screen image
with his wonderful performance as the increasingly desperate and
sleazy McAllister. Witherspoon is also superb in a complex role, as
her perfectly angelic looks hide a spiteful, wilful and vengeful
Election is a smart, vicious and often subversive comedy that
looks at morality, ethics, ambition, greed, destiny and power
politics. Writer/director Alexander Payne uses a clever, multi-first
person narrative structure to give the audience insights into the
different motivations and attitudes of the characters.
Is McAllister merely driven by a sense of frustration, knowing
that he is a teacher who will shape and inspire his students while the
more talented and ambitious of his charges will graduate and chase
their share of the American dream? Is Tracey that sort of person who
always seeks power and personal glory, oblivious to those she tramples
over on the way to the top? The nicely ironic epilogue goes some way
to answering these questions and providing a neat moral to this comic
Copyright © 1999 Greg King