It is with a queasy mind that I entered the theater to see Election. This year has already had a glut of high school movies, most of which have been of dubious quality. Does the world need another one? If that movie is Election, the answer is “yes”. A smart and funny satire of high school, and life in general, Election shows how to do the high school genre right.
Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is an overachieving student at Carver High School, in Omaha. She is the type of girl who will stop at absolutely nothing to reach her goal. Her latest challenge is to become Student Body President, which shouldn’t be too hard (since she’s the only one running).
Enter Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), history teacher. He secretly despises Tracy, and decides to give her a challenge. He urges Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a naive but popular jock, to enter the race.
But things don’t stop there, as Paul’s lesbian sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell) decides to join the race as well. An outcast at school, she initially seems to have no chance of winning. Yet, her nihilistic attitudes strike a chord with the student body, and soon she becomes a serious contender as well.
Based on Tom Perrotta’s novel, Election is clever and whimsical. Not only does it aptly capture the nuances of high school and pointless student body elections, but it reveals truths about politics and life as a whole.
Matthew Broderick is an unusual choice to play Mr. McAllister. At times, he still seems a bit too boyish for the role, even though makeup has added a bit of grey at his temples. Still, Broderick is able to bring a good dose of humor to the role, which serves as a compliment to his Ferris Bueller days. McAllister is a man who obsesses about the difference between ethics and morals, meanwhile ignoring both.
The students are all a treat. Reese Witherspoon is riveting as the driven Tracy Flick, creating a memorable character that is familiar yet unique. Chris Klein seems to be channelling Keanu Reeves at points, but he achieves the desired ambiance, that of a good intentioned airhead.
The film gets a bit distracted when it diverts attention away from the election to focus on the marital problems of McAllister, his wife, Diane (Molly Hagan), and their best friends, the Novotnys (Mark Harelik and Delaney Driscoll). But, even when dwelling on this subplot, the film retains its cruel comic edge.
Director Alexander Payne has created a very enjoyable satire in Election. Not the typical high school comedy, Election proves itself to be much more.