Election (1999)

“Paul for president… promise… progress… peanut.”

That’s right… today is Election day! Here I am of course refering to the 1999 film. Election is a movie that I’ve considered seeing for a long time, but it never really appealed to me despite all the good things I’d heard about it. I think that part of the reason I hadn’t seen it is that somewhere along the line I confused it with Rushmore, and thought it was a Wes Anderson movie. Fortunately, it turns out that’s not the case. Election was actually screen-written and directed by Alexander Payne, and I’m glad that I’ve finally taken the time to see it.

Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the movie:

The film stars Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Klein and tells the story of Jim McAllister (Broderick), a popular high school history and civics teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and one of his students, Tracy Flick (Witherspoon), around the time of the school’s student body elections. McAllister’s involvement with various school-related functions masks his frustration with other aspects of his life; Tracy is an overachiever whose obsession with getting into a good college masks a vindictive and manipulative personality. When Tracy obtains a nomination for class president in the school election, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title, and tries his best to stop her from winning.

This movie is really very different from what I was expecting it to be. (Of course, once I figured out it wasn’t a Wes Anderson movie my expectations should probably have all gone out the window anyway.) The movie is a lot racier than I thought it’d be. I’m not entirely sure if that’s the right term, it’s certainly not “raunchy” like American Pie or similar teen sex comedies, but it’s certainly not exactly as chaste as most High School movies that aren’t teen sex comedies tend to be. For example, early on we learn that prior to the events of the film, Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick had an affair with McAllister’s best friend Dave (Mark Harelik), who was also a teacher at the school until the relationship was exposed. (Amazingly, not so much of a rumor of this scandal leaked out to the greater student body.) We are treated, via flashback, to part of a conversation between Dave and McAllister, with Dave describing his encounter with Tracey in fairly explicit detail. This flashback is cut to suddenly, and definitely changes the tone of the movie. Certainly it got my attention. I suppose this might well be a more realistic approach. On the surface everyone is civilized and proper, with a healthy dose of libido that’s underlying everything, ready to pop out when they think nobody’s looking. Whatever the case, it really does work.

The three leads; Broderick, Witherspoon and Klein, are all fabulously cast, and they bring both humor real depth to their characters. I suppose it helps that they are given fantastic characters to work with. I was particularly a fan of Klein’s Paul Metzler. The characters could easily have been a cookie-cutter popular jock, but Paul is actually revealed to be thoughtful, honest, and considerate, (if a bit of a dimwit.) He gets into the race for school president, for mostly the right reasons, and really seems to want to make the best of it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), who gets into the race as a third candidate because she’s (understandably) angry when her girlfriend decides she’s straight, and immediately starts banging Paul. Although primarily confined to a side plot, Tammy is, in a way, the character with the most to say, of course, what she has to say is just the angry rantings of an angst-ridden teen, but at least she’s sincere.

Overall this really is an enjoyable movie, it’s funny, it’s thoughtful, and its just a little bit sexy. It’s worth seeing.

[Election (1999) – Directed by Alexander Payne – Rated R for strong sexuality, sex-related dialogue and language, and a scene of drug use]
OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing