'90s Movie Month! "Election" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

'90s Movie Month! "Election" Review

Rated: R (strong sexuality, sex-related dialogue, drug use)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: May 7, 1999
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Genre: Comedy/Drama

Director and screenwriter Alexander Payne teams up with novelist Tom Perrotta to create the 1999 movie gem "Election." This was during at time when Reese Witherspoon was beginning to blossom onscreen, having already starred in the movie "Freeway," a gritty modern adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood" released two years earlier. After "Cruel Intentions" appeared in theaters, it seemed a mere hour before filming of "Election" began. In "Election," Matthew Broderick keeps the tone as the narrator of this tale that casts practically everyone as a narcissist.

In this movie, Witherspoon plays the part of only child Tracy Flick, an exasperating know-it-all and seemingly perfect teacher's pet. Moviegoers' expectations of another typical teen comedy are dashed as the film proves to be a surprisingly adult and comically risqué story of high school life. The story centers around a high school election for student body president, which pristine Tracy Flick is determined to win. Tracy, however, is the kind of girl who inspires fantasies of seeing her tarred and feathered. Her selfish determination certainly gets under the skin of her teacher, Jim McAllister, who is played by Matthew Broderick. It seems McAllister harbors a secret obsession of his own, and his obsession draws from him a rather diabolical quality. McAllister manages to convince himself that an innocent remark made by Tracy is actually an erotic innuendo purposely posed to him by the nubile, blonde teenager. His misconception is further exacerbated by his knowledge of a lurid affair Tracy indulged in with her married teacher, played by Mark Harelik, the previous school year. McAllister's love/hate attitude toward Tracy spurs him to convince a rather clueless high school football player named Paul Metzler, convincingly portrayed by Chris Klein, to oppose Tracy in the presidential election.

Meanwhile, on the fringes of the main storyline, hilarious side-stories play out. In a fit of anger sparked by the realization that her teen lover was only sewing wild oats and is not, in fact, a lesbian, Paul's sister, Tammy, announces her own entry into the student election. Actor Jessica Campbell entertains the audience in her role as the cynical, understated, and thoroughly pissed off Tracy Metzler. To viewers' amusement, Tracy finally finds happiness when she is sent to a Catholic school for girls by her parents, who thought being surrounded by girls would serve as punishment for their daughter. McAllister's side story involves an embarrassingly short-lived tryst with Linda Novotny, played by Delaney Driscoll, whom he convinces himself he is in love with. Filled with anticipation, he steals away to her home for a romantic interlude, but only manages to be stung in the eye by a bee. He dejectedly makes his way home only to find Linda in his living room confessing to his wife about the uninspired thirty-second affair. McAllister's wife, who elicits hearty laughter from the audience as she is portrayed by Molly Hagan, demands a divorce.

Despite McAllister's pathetic life, the urge to pity him never arises. On the contrary, McAllister's story highlights a metaphor for his character. Naturally, he is fated to misery. His bitterness attracts disaster, and the audience finds it amusing. After all, he's a teacher who spent most of the school year attempting to score with his underage student while childishly plotting to ruin her high school career. Broderick's depiction of Jim McAllister is what truly makes "Election" shine. Matthew Broderick plays the role of McAllister so masterfully that even the ever suave Ferris Bueller would tip his hat in deference.

Although the very young starlet, Reese Witherspoon is adorable in the same way Shirley Temple was adorable, but she has no trouble convincing viewers of Tracy Film's self-serving and manipulative nature. This role proves she is a natural talent. Molly Hagan, as Diane McAllister, plays the uncharacteristic role of a wife who humors her husband in the bedroom while she fights back boredom and condescends to her partner with uninhibited pillow talk that aims to speed him along, presumably so she can get on with more important things. Alexander hit it out of the park with this movie, but that's not surprising. He isn't a man who is known for being conventional. Memories of the role for which Laura Dern had been cast in the 1996 film "Citizen Ruth" come to mind. There's always the strong suspicion that he's secretly smirking behind his fans' backs or, perhaps, that he, like Dern's character, might be sniffing glue for kicks.

Rated 3.5 out of 5