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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Election

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon
Director: Alexander Payne
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: April 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Colleen Camp, Molly Hagan, Jessica Campbell, Chris Klein

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

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 win-at-all-costs streak.

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 itself.

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 disposition.

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 fable.

Copyright 1999 Greg King

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