Sunday, April 5, 2009

Day Eighty-Six: Election (1999) - Rank 4.5/5


For those of you who are fans of Judd Apatow, I pity you, for I'd take Alexander Payne over the flash-in-a-pan director any day. His films are always well-scripted examinations of everyday characters that have an intimacy that many other comedies lack. I thought "Sideways" was a fabulous film before the taste of it became soured by all the pretentious wine aficionado poseurs born in its shadow. And "About Schmidt" was a wonderful turn of face for Jack Nicholson, and decidedly hilarious. So how I managed to never catch "Election," especially considering the setting of the film, is beyond my ken.

The film centers around a high school student council presidential election in a small Nebraska town. Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is the poor bastard in charge of the event, with three main competitors: the overachieving and obnoxious Tracy Flint (Reese Witherspoon), the lunkheaded quarterback for the football team, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his anarchist sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell). Mr. McAllister can't stand the undermining Flint, because she steps on anyone she can to get what she wants, including teachers, and tries to do what he can to take the glory of winning the school election away from her (including encouraging the wounded Paul to run against her). The more he dedicates himself to this act, the more his life falls apart. It's sad, tragic, darkly humorous and, incredibly enough, quite believable.

The film is an exercise in perfect casting, with disaffected teen actors working alongside homely adults. There are several elements that reflect public school mentalities perfectly, including Tammy's promise speech, where she rants about how assemblies for events such as school elections are inane and if elected, she would permanently disband the student government, only to receive boisterous cheering (from teachers and students alike). The passive-aggressive nature of student-teacher relations frequently surfaces too, in a manner that makes you hate Tracy damn near as much as Mr. McAllister does. And, sadly enough, the cruel end to the film has an inherent truth in it as well. An excellent screenplay and an even better directorial debut from Payne.

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