Movie Review By Casey McCabe
"Election" is a comedy about high school. And in this particular high school Tracy Flick is the girl most likely to succeed, simply because she will not have it any other way. The race is for student council president, and from the moment we see Tracy's smug, conniving, cherubic face convinced her election is a mere formality we start licking our lips, waiting for the film to deliver her well-deserved comeuppance.
That at least is the expectation, handed down through eons of high school revenge movies. But "Election" was written and directed by Alexander Payne, the man who chose a comedy about abortion for his film debut, the clever and daring "Citizen Ruth". With "Election" Payne actually pulls even fewer punches and the result is one of the most fully-realized comedies in recent memory. Its real thrill comes from watching the film rush headlong into every cliche, then masterfully going beyond it.
Tracy, played by Reese Witherspoon, finds her rival not in another student, but in Mr. McAllister, played by Matthew Broderick, a dedicated and popular teacher who labors to educate his students on the difference between morals and ethics. McAllister also happens to have Tracy's number and he's determined not to let her blonde ambition go unchallenged. So he enlists the school's top jock, Paul Metzler, to enter the race, knowing the sweet but dumb lug is hardly qualified and only marginally interested. But as a popular football hero, Paul just might be able to knock Tracy off her little perch. And that is only the first of many moral and ethical lines Mr. McAllister will cross. Most of them dissect his personal life, the only slightly less juvenile world of adults in the midst of mid-life crises.
"Election" is often painfully funny, and may I emphasize painful. Because the characters are so true, the twists so believable, the consequences so obvious to everyone but the players involved, the comedy can make you flinch. But hey, thatís life.
Matthew Broderick, who - and it seems like only yesterday - once played disarmingly coy high school protagonists, crawls right into the skin of Mr. McAllister, a man who could well have been coy in his youth but is left only with ironic bemusement as he watches his life unravel. Reese Witherspoon....well let me just say Iíd watch Reese Witherspoon grate cheese. Like her character in the film, she's a force to be reckoned with. Chris Klein as an incredibly sympathetic dumb jock is a revelation. But then virtually every actor, every extra, every scene, prop, camera angle, cinematic device and edit in Election has been lovingly assembled by a writer/director with unflinching confidence in his material. I hope Hollywood doesn't start throwing a lot of money at Alexander Payne. I just hope they let him keep making his films.
In the end it's not quite clear who wins in "Election". Unless it's those of us who've been waiting for an intelligent take on teenagers. "Election" is no "Scream" or "I Know What You Screamed Last Summer". It's actually believable. And that makes the comedy even more wicked.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 05/19/99
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