Bribes, ballot-box stuffing, sexual corruption. No, it’s not the White House, it’s just the student council election at George Washington Carver High in the scathing satire "Election."
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In writer-director Alexander Payne’s sharp-eyed morality tale, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is running unopposed for her school’s student council president election. Tracy is, to put it mildly, an overachiever. Her only other competition would be Max Fischer from this year’s other splendid satire, "Rushmore." Tracy always has her hand up first to answer the question, her face is remarkably acne-free, her demeanor practically shouts "Love me, I’m likable!" But school civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) thinks otherwise. He sees Tracy as a threat, not only to the student body at Carver High, but to the world at large. If Tracy Flick wins school president, who knows where she’ll go from there? Obviously, Mr. M. is worried about the sanctity of the Oval Office.
However, McAllister is hardly a good gatekeeper for our nation’s morals. Not only does he try to thwart his best and brightest student, he’s also a lout who’s cheating on his wife. His lover, by the way, is the ex-wife of a former teacher at Carver who was caught sleeping with none other than Tracy Flick. As you can see, morality skews off in a hundred different directions in "Election."
Partly to establish a more democratic election, and partly to satisfy his deep, personal anger towards Tracy, McAllister talks popular varsity football player Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run for president as well. Paul is a sweet, generous dunderhead who finds himself posing a surprising challenge to the well-organized campaign of Miss Flick.
"Election" is wonderful when it sticks to the portrait of life in the halls of a small-town high school. Payne has all the details down pat—from the principal to the campaign posters. There’s a lot of energetic zest as he gets his point across about politics at the lowest (and I mean LOWEST) levels.
Broderick and Witherspoon give fierce performances, charging full-speed ahead with very, very funny performances. There’s a great moment when, thinking she’s won, Tracy jumps up and down in the empty hallway like she was on a pogo stick.
What’s unfortunate in the film is what I see as a growing, and very needless, trend in films about teens: gratuitous sex. Payne could easily dispense with several scenes which are too graphic for the under-18 audience (who will undoubtedly want to see a film about a high school election). Why throw in oral sex when you’ve already got a winning candidate for best high school comedy?
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