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.