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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 Akiva Gottlieb
2½ stars out of 4

It is 1999, and America, for the most part, is tired of politics. In 1998, the year of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, we had 3 political comedies: PRIMARY COLORS, WAG THE DOG and BULWORTH. This year, we have the unlikely teenage political satire ELECTION, which is the first mildly ambitious film from the folks at MTV Films, but even that cannot fully save the movie itself.

Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, 3-time Teacher of the Year at Carver High School. As you may have guessed from the title, it is the time of year for student council elections. The only presidential candidate is Tracy Flick(Reese Witherspoon), an ambitious goody-two-shoes who takes the election quite seriously.

But Mr. McAllister has his second thoughts about Tracy. A couple years before, Tracy had been carrying on an affair with a teacher at the school(Mark Harelik), who happened to be McAllister's close family friend. When the news broke out, the teacher's wife, Linda(Delaney Driscoll), filed for divorce immediately, and since then, Mr. McAllister has been constantly with her, helping her run errands while Mrs. McAllister(Molly Hagan) helps her take care of her son. Mr. McAllister is just dying to to take his friendship with Linda to an adulterous level.

So, that seems to be a basic motive for Mr. McAllister to want to sabotage Tracy's election campaign. And the battle begins. The first pawn that he throws her way is Paul Metzler(Chris Klein), who was the school's quarterback until he broke his leg in a skiing accident. He doesn't really care too much about running, but Mr. McAllister seems to inspire him enough. Paul has no hard feelings for Tracy, and infact, he wants her to win. But Tracy feels nothing but genuine rage for McAllister.

Then, there is Tammy Metzler(Jessica Campbell), Paul's younger sister who just happens to be a lesbian. After her best friend/lover starts gettin' jiggy with Paul, Tammy declares all-out war, and becomes a nominee herself. She feels that people shouldn't vote at all in this phony election.

Sound familiar? Probably, if you've ever followed a real election campaign, which ELECTION attemps to satirize. Director Alexander Payne is no stranger to satire. He made the abortion comedy CITIZEN RUTH. And ELECTION, his latest film, is a very smart, very funny, very witty satire itself. But the problem lies in the characters. The only marginally likable character is Paul Metzler, and this guy's a dumbass.

Reese Witherspoon, who should remind many of a young Holly Hunter, is one of the finest young actresses working today, but her character isn't given any attractive or likable qualities. That is not to say that this isn't one of her better performances; I just wish she had a role that would let her do more. And as for Matthew Broderick, why oh why? Forget FERRIS BUELLER; Matthew Broderick is a bad, bad actor, and his performance in ELECTION proves my point exactly. And to have to listen to all this voice-over whining makes the film bad enough.

To all the critics who said Max Fischer in RUSHMORE was unlikable, I ask you to think a little bit about the characters in ELECTION. But, needless to say, if ELECTION was trying to prove a point that all politicians are unlikable, they have got that job done. But after the presidential scandal of 1998, did we really need any more proof of that fact?

Copyright 1999 Akiva Gottlieb

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