Just when you thought that there was nothing more than brainless, insipid
teenager movies obsessed with sex and money comes a delectable treat known as
Election. It is one of the best, quirkiest, smartest and most outrageous movies
of the year - a bright, comical triumph from first frame to last. It also
boasts one of my favorite performances of the year - from the wondrous fireball
of energy known as Reese Witherspoon.
Witherspoon stars as Tracy Flick, a scheming, energetic, overly ambitious,
overachieving high school student (how rare nowadays to witness such a person
in any movie) with dreams of running for office. Tracy tries so hard that she
makes muffins with the logo "Pick Flick" emblazoned on each one while seated at
her campaigning table. And campaign she does, as Tracy runs for the upcoming
high school election for school president. Only the civics teacher, Mr.
McAllister (Matthew Broderick), is not sure he wants Tracy to win, and she has
a hell of a chance since she's the only one running. So he encourages a dumb
jock, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein - a keen reminder of Keanu Reeves) into running
for the election, thus sending a chord of resentment through some principal
characters. Tracy is understandably furious thinking she's the only one who
should run. Paul's sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), is a rebellious loner with
lesbian tendencies, and decides to run for president as an attack against her
brother's girlfriend. What transpires are voting posters torn from walls,
countless affairs, inarticulate political speeches, bee stings, meditating
between power lines, lies, bitter jealousies, and enough catastrophic events to
make Monica Lewinsky blush with shock.
"Election" is deftly written and imaginatively directed by Alexander Payne.
His first effort, Citizen Ruth, was a mild, uneven black comedy that
nevertheless raised issues about abortion rights - a touchy subject. With
"Election," Payne explores and deeply uncovers a cutthroat comic spirit in the
realm of politics , and there is an occasional mean streak - all the characters
suffer and pay for the consequences of their actions. Yes, even the righteous
Mr. McAllister, who knows the difference between morals and ethics but does not
apply them to his daily life. As played by Matthew Broderick, it is hard to
dislike him, but you can reject his ethical and moral choices.
In "Election," it is impossible to know whom you should be rooting for or whom
you should sympathize with. And Payne cleverly shifts from one character's
point-of-view to another to the point where we at least hope everyone gets away
with their individual actions. We hope that Tracy gets the shot as president,
but we start to doubt her ethics (she wants to get ahead in the world, after
all). However, is she any worse than McAllister, who has an affair with his
friend's wife? Does it matter that his friend was a former geometry professor
who had an affair with Tracy and, as a result. ousted from the school? Or what
about the dumb, sweet Paul who can't give a speech to save his life? Or Tammi
who has ambitions beyond elections, and considers suspensions to be restful
The cast is uniformly perfect. Reese Witherspoon is a spunky, tense,
frighteningly ambitious creature who will do anything to get support (not
unlike her similar character in Freeway) - she is like a tight ball of energy
ready to burst. Broderick has his best role in ages - he adeptly switches from
an omnipresent, good-natured teacher to a repulsive-looking creature with a bee
sting aiming to destroy Tracy - an act Ferris Bueller's principal (the
memorable performance by Jeffrey Jones in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) would have
been fond of. Jessica Campbell goes against the grain of zit-free, attractive
teens with her braces and rebellious attitude towards the school - she would
have been a fitting replacement for Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That. And
the cameo by Colleen Camp as Tracy's mother is a shrewd casting choice - she is
as ambitious as her daughter.
"Election" is a hysterical, wonderful movie guaranteed to keep you in stitches
throughout. It is original, offbeat, edgy and facetious. It is still early, but
the vote is in for me: "Election" is the best film of the year.
Copyright © 1999 Jerry Saravia