Approaching its 20th anniversary in May 2019, Alexander Payne’s Election remains one of the best political satire comedies of all time.
Three-time teacher of the year Jim McCallister (Matthew Broderick) is one of G.W. Carver High School’s popular teachers. He also has some sort of vendetta against Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). McCallister puts a plan together the very moment in which Flick decides to run for class president. Earlier in the year, Tracy had been involved with another teacher Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik). It just so happened that the affair cost Dave not only his job but his marriage, too. Did Tracy suffer any sort of consequences? No. Her reputation did not suffer at all and yet McCallister still marks her for what happened to his best friend.
McCallister pulls the ultimate stunt by recruiting popular football player Paul Metzler (Chris Klein, making his acting debut two months to the day before American Pie). Having been depressed due to a leg injury, Paul’s run for office lifts up his spirits. This is where things are about to get crazy! His sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), is in an “experimental” relationship with Lisa Flanagan (Frankie Ingrassia). But when Paul catches Tammy in the act, Lisa leaves her and becomes Paul’s campaign manager. Tammy retaliates in the only way she can–by running for office to show that it’s a joke. Tammy delivers a rousing speech that chews out the electoral process but she ultimately gets handed a suspension.
If you had your money on things getting crazier, you’re correct! Tammy takes the fall for Tracy’s actions (removing campaign posters) and gets expelled from the school to her delight. Meanwhile, Jim is helping Linda Novotny with some repair projects and things soon get out of control.
When Election Day finally gets underway, Jim’s plan goes into full speed. Unfortunately for Jim, a stupid mistake has disastrous consequences. All because of a vendetta against Tracy! Jim foolishly threw out two ballots but because a janitor saw them, he loses his job and wife.
Based on Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name, the film satirizes both political elections and life in suburban high schools. The inspiration came from two events in the early 1990s. One of which was Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy in 1992. The second of which was a pregnant student being elected homecoming queen but lost due a cover-up. Not surprisingly, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s screenplay earned an Oscar nomination. It speaks to how great the dialogue is and how well it translates on screen. In one segment alone, we see all three candidates praying to G-d.
Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon are perfect for their roles. If Pleasantville didn’t help put Withspoon’s on the map, Election surely did. It is impossible to imagine the film with anyone else in these roles.
One can only wonder how different Election would be if it were made today. How would things look in a digital era when voting is starting to take place online? Could Jim McCallister have hacked the election and get away with it? It’s too hard to say, really.
In spite of all the outlandish actions taking place, Election is still the perfect political satire to watch heading into Election Day.
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
SCREENWRITER: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
CAST: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Mark Harelik, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Delaney Driscoll, Colleen Camp, Frankie Ingrassia, Matt Malloy, Jeanine Jackson, Holmes Osborne
Paramount Pictures opened Election on May 7, 1999. The film is available to watch on Hulu and Amazon Prime. The film is available as Criterion Collection edition in Blu-Ray and DVD.
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