Election Movie Review

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is the kind of obsessive,over-eager student whose arm shoots straight up in the air every time herteachers as a question -- any question. She's on 30 different pages inher yearbook. She's a preppie. She's a steamroller of determination, andshe's running for student body president of George Washington Carver High,so get out of her way.

Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is a dedicated veteranhistory teacher and the student government adviser, but something in thisguy has just snapped. He's had it with the over-achieving Tracy and hedecides she must be stopped at any cost.

Such is the setting for "Election," a deliriouslysardonic and underhanded satire of politics and high school culture thatfollows McAllister's increasingly bizarre attempts to sideline Tracy'sfanatical presidential campaign.

Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta, which was inspired bythe 1992 presidential race and an incident at a Southern high school inwhich a prom queen was denied her crown because she was pregnant, "Election"is a rare breed -- an intelligent high school comedy, long on acerbic witand refreshingly devoid of chiched cardboard characters.

The sophomore feature from co-writer and director AlexanderPayne, whose dry humor made the abortion debatefarce "Citizen Ruth" so deliciously scathing to all schools ofthought, "Election" thumbs its nose at the images of the idealstudent and the involved teacher that convention would have us hold sodear. But at the same time, it sympathizes with each character in turnas chapters of the story are narrated by the different players.

Broderick gets to turn the tables on his indelible imageas Ferris Bueller, the ultimate high school prankster, playing Jim McAllisteras a nervous, ineffectual teacher trying to be a responsible adult wheninside his childishness is running rampant.

He recruits Paul (Chris Klein), a dim bulb, nice guy footballhero to run against Tracy. Paul doesn't realize what he's in for.

His sudden higher profile attracts the attention of thesexually confused semi-girlfriend of his younger sister, a budding lesbiannamed Tammy (Jessica Campbell). Then, out for revenge, Tammy throws herhat in the ring, gaining huge popularity on a do-nothing platform, whichreally chaps Tracy's hide.

A ruthless roundelay of back-stabbing and vote manipulationensues that finds McAllister ousted from his job and his family, Tammybeing packed away to an all-girls school (by subversive design), and Tracymaking smug speeches to the audience about destiny.

Payne's wicked facetiousness drives "Election,"and his fantastic sense of suburban atmosphere gives the film an all-too-realair. But it's the performances that make the movie memorable. The put-uponnerd buried in Jim McAllister is subtly exposed by Broderick's constanttrepidation and his hems and haws when he speaks.

Klein and Campbell, both newcomers to acting, are wonderfulas the dopey jock and his viciously embittered sister (who emerges as themovie's cult hero).

And Witherspoon ("CruelIntentions," "Freeway")gives the best performance of her promising career, absorbing herself inher role as the shrill Tracy. She knows this obsessive girl's walk (buttin the air, bent forward in determination). Her nostrils flare and hereye dilate when she gets her blood up, be it raising her arm in class orpursuing votes in the halls. She knits her eye brows as she tries to understandwhy her teacher is undermining her ambition. She's the perfect neuroticzealot.

"Election" may be perceived as a high schoolmovie, but that would be an insult to this terrifically incisive, thinkingcynic's comedy. Although the kids who flock to "She'sAll That" and "10Things I Hate About You" would probablystill find it funny, this film is far more stimulating, and frankly, aimedover their heads.

Comments

Election Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, Friday, April 30, 1999 Wider: Friday, May 7, 1999

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