90s US Bracket: Election (1999)


The second film in my only match-up in the fifth round of the 90s US Bracket!

Screenplay By: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Directed By: Alexander Payne

What actually happens in life versus what we perceive to be happening is an interesting facet of the human condition. It’s as simple as what we take in from a first person perspective and what an unbiased outside perspective can show us. Movies are a great medium for this bit of humanity because they can show both perspectives at the same time. One of the premises Election operates on is that we are in general full of shit. We perceive things in a way that best suits us, but the unbiased camera shows us the way things really are. The results of this are revealing, poignant and most of all funny. The narration adds to the humor because we hear the characters perspective while the camera simultaneously shows us the truth.

I find myself sad when watching Election, because outside of Walk The Line I wonder what happened to all the talent Reese Witherspoon once possessed? Admittedly I haven’t taken in a lot of her films over the years, but in movies like Pleasantville, Cruel Intentions and the later Walk The Line she showed incredible range and acumen as an actress. Election may be her best performance, I favor Walk The Line more, as she brings real life and earnestness to Tracy Flick. But, it’s still sad to see a once promising actress who has now been reduced to bad romantic comedies.

At the other end of the spectrum you have Matthew Broderick. He is an actor who I have never thought is among the best, but he does a good job in every role and is capable of great subtlety in his various parts. In Election he is very subtle, never quite crossing that line. The rest of the cast is good, including Chris Klein, but it’s no secret that Paul Metzler is the template for the only type of character Klein knows how to play,

There are certainly some laugh out loud moments in Election, but the humor is more subdued that uproarious. Small moments like Mr. McAllister trying to explain how democracy is different by drawing apples and oranges on the board and ending up with drawings that look identical. Or, Tracy’s jumping up and down for joy in the hallway after she has found out she’s won the election. Moments like that are very funny, but they aren’t the type of humor that causes me to lose it, they are more along the lines of quiet humor that works on a higher level. There are however some comedic moments in Election that don’t quite work, but that is true of most comedies.

I never had any doubt as to what Alexander Payne was lampooning in Election, the idea of democracy. Using the High School landscape as his canvas was a brilliant touch because it is democracy on a micro level where we can understand and relate to it. The theme is handled deftly and the humor is quite, uh, humorous. It isn’t so much mean as people often like to say, but rather it is honest and to the point in its ridicule.

There is one area in Election that I have a hard time buying, and that is the complete breakdown of Mr. McAllister. I have no problem with his slow descent into demoralization, but I never felt there was any moment or series of moments that were enough to push him into the almost violent stage he reached at one point. He dispatched with the violent tract right away and never actually commits any violence himself, but for a few moments the movie was guiding him down that path and I never quite bought it.

High School is a fertile story ground for more than ugly duckling and sports bonding motifs. Election is one of those rare High School movies that steps outside the usual tropes of the High School film and tries to present something different and unique, something adult. There are small moments where it is genius, just as there are small moments where it falls a bit too much into caricature. Election is a funny movie that brings a fresh take to a familiar setting and unless you were home schooled you should be able to relate to the truth behind all the ridiculousness that is High School life and Election.




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