Review: ELECTION (R)

Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.

U.S. Release Date: April 23, 1999

Running Time: 102 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Language, sexual situations)

Cast: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein

Director: Alexander Payne

Producers: Albert Berger, David Gale, Keith Samples, Ron Yerxa, Jessica Campbell, Molly Hagan, Delaney Driscoll, Phil Reeves

Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / August 7, 2011

In the tradition of most urban black comedies (such as American Beauty and Happiness), Alexander Payne’s Election follows the formula quite well. And what an odd formula that is.

It deals with high school teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who is well-known within the community for really getting involved with the students on more personal level, connecting with them almost like a father does to his child. Recently, he’s become unsatisfied with his life–both personally and professionally–and these feelings come into play with the school’s student council election.

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a student obsessed with academics, is the person whom his feelings are mostly directed at. She is destined for greatness, will only go up in life, and, at the moment, is running unopposed in the race for school president. McAllister has grown tired of seeing her constantly succeed and realizes that because of her, a lot of other people will fail and go on leading unfulfilled lives. Also, he just isn’t quite so fond of her. So, he decides to intervene in the election by convincing another student, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), to enter the race. Naturally, sparks fly and Election heats up, spinning off into a whirlwind of political satire.

Broderick, an actor who, as well-known as he is, doesn’t have a very extensive filmography (mainly, he’s recognized for the John Hughes-directed comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), fits in perfectly with the character of Jim McAllister. He delivers such an honest and personable performance that he’s very easy to to identify with. Education is such a tiresome profession, having to watch as your students head off and become something better than you are. It’s hard to imagine that jealousy doesn’t often play a part in their lives. We all know someone like Tracy Flick, therefore, we can immediately relate with McAllister.

Election is a comedy, but it isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious. It has a very quiet sense of humor, delivered not through actions, but through dialogue. Alexander Payne’s and Jim Taylor’s script is phenomenal. The satire is easy to spot–sharp and biting. Obviously, Election represents the presidential election of 1992 and its characters stand for the opposing candidates: Bush, Clinton, and Perot. It may over-exaggerate itself sometimes, but, for the most part, it stays very true to actuality.

The editing was Oscar-worthy. It was such a genuine pleasure seeing such smooth cuts and dissolves. The music (as brilliant as it was) was always right on cue with the characters actions. Without a doubt, Election is one of the finest-looking comedies I’ve ever seen.

Overall, Election may not be very upbeat and offers virtually no catharsis, but tends to very enjoyable. It’s funny, startlingly original, and boldly goes where most satires wouldn’t dare.

RATING: 3.5/4

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Review: BRAZIL (R)

Jonathan Pryce in Terry Gilliam's wildly imaginative "Brazil."

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 16, 2010

Rarely has science-fiction been done as well as Brazil. It exceeds all imaginative boundaries, venturing into areas so original and unexplored that to see it on the silver screen sparks only pure enjoyment and cinematic pleasure.

The film has no set time period. The set design would suggest that it’s set in the future, but a superimposed title reads “Somewhere in the 20th Century”. Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a workaholic who leads an uneventful life. Often enough, his mind wanders into dreams of fantasy, where he soars through the air, searching for a mysterious and unknown love. The futuristic world in which he lives in is subject to infrequent spouts of terrorism and the government performs ruthless interrogation procedures to find the culprits. So, these dreams are sort of an “escape”.

In a case of mistaken identity, an innocent man (Buttle, not Tuttle) is killed during interrogation and those responsible for the mishap try to cover it up. Lowry is assigned to dispose of any evidence.

This leads him to Shangri-La Towers, the home of Buttle’s widow, to whom he must give a check to compensate for her losses. While there, he runs into the Buttles’ upstairs neighbor, Jill Layton, who, oddly enough, is the woman from Lowry’s dreams. Layton has been trying to help the widow in finding out what happened to her husband, but has had no luck, and even more oddly enough, Layton is now considered a terrorist because of this. Eventually, the plot does evolve into something more straightforward. Lowry tries to convince the authorities otherwise that Layton is not a terrorist, but in doing this, he becomes considered one himself.

What a bewildering, thought-provoking experience Brazil is. Chances are you’ll never come across another film like it again. The set design is one of a kind; beautifully cartoonic landscapes and almost toy-like urban areas. The general look of it is dazzling and in my opinion, it’s the best-looking science-fiction film yet. Sure, special effects are wonderful, but everything in Brazil is entirely made by hand. Is that a feat or what? And plus, it looks way better than anything a special effect could’ve done.

The writing is magnificent. Satire is a hard subject to conquer. It’s not always so easy to be funny while keeping a consistently subtle tone of anger. Brazil pulls it off. It’s downright hilarious; both through words and actions, poking fun at areas where it’s necessary. Gilliam’s humor targets the bureaucracy, government control, and the downfalls of technology. The influences are obviously Orwellian, but the heart is totally Gilliam.

As well, the performances are spot-on. This is Pryce’s first movie (and lead) role and he’s downright hilarious. Incredibly funny. But while he can act eccentric and paranoid, he also can be delicate in some of the film’s softer moments. The film’s wacky supporting character, Harry Tuttle, is played to comic perfection by Robert De Niro and even though he has barely any screen time, he manages to be the funniest in the whole movie.

I’ve always felt that Terry Gilliam was one of the best directors out there. He’s innovative. He manages to funnel creativity into all of his work, never afraid to get a little weird. Of course, there is a setback to this. Just look at the box office totals from his films. That should pretty much say it all.

Reality is always difficult to pull off in film, but fantasy is even more so. It takes close observation to be realistic, but imagination to be absurd. That’s why Brazil is so remarkable. It’s simply genius and, through countless viewings, has managed to amaze and confuse me in ways I can’t even imagine. It’s one of the most important films of our time and succeeds in every category possible. I hope you see it and like it as much as I do.

RATING: 4/4