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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 Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

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 vacations?

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

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