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Starring
Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Molly Hagan, Phil Reeves
Director
Alexander Payne
Election

Reviewed by Jason Zingale

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A

lexander Payne is a master of black comedy, but before he became a household name with films like “Sideways” and “About Schmidt” (at least, in households who regularly watch the Oscars), the writer/director made “Election,” the most biting high school satire since “Heathers.” Though not as dark as Michael Lehman’s 1988 film, to say that “Election” is actually about high school would be to sell the movie short. Long celebrated as a clever adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel, the film also helped launch the career of Reese Witherspoon, who reminds us here why she became a star in the first place.

As Tracy Flick, Witherspoon perfectly tows the line between cute and irritating – an ambitious overachiever who has her hand in every extracurricular activity at school. Most would concede that Tracy is the natural choice to become the next student council president (in fact, she’s currently running uncontested), but history teacher/student council advisor Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) strongly disagrees. He’s sick and tired of watching Tracy get everything that she wants, and instead of sitting back and letting her win, he encourages a sweet-natured but dopey jock named Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her. When Paul’s younger lesbian sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), also joins the race, however, Jim’s plan to dethrone Tracy begins to take a vicious detour.

It’s been said that life is like high school, and in the case of “Election,” it couldn’t be more true. Deconstructing the political process by way of a student council election, the film shows the extreme lengths that people go to in order to get their way. Slanderous TV ads may be a little more destructive than, say, defacing campaign posters, but it’s the same difference. What’s ultimately so great about this setup, though, is that it makes a point of satirizing those politicians who believe they’re entitled to more than they deserve. (Call Tom Perrotta a prophet, but watching the film post-Bush era brings new meaning to the message.) The trait can be found in all four main characters, but Jim (the one man trying to curb this sense of self-entitlement) is the guiltiest of the bunch. Though he’s introduced as a good person (great with students, loves his wife, etc.), the more involved he gets in the election, the more it affects his personal life.

That the nerdy Matthew Broderick plays Jim only helps make him a bigger loser than he seems, and it remains the actor’s best adult role to date. In fact, for as sharp as the writing is, the film wouldn’t contain nearly the same punch without the solid performances of its cast. Witherspoon plays the elitist go-getter with the kind of conviction you’d expect from someone who owns a production company called Type A Films, while Chris Klein’s limited talent actually serves him well as the clueless football star. That's not exactly the most glowing compliment you could give an actor, but for someone of his range, it's more than he deserves. Unfortunately, "Election" hasn't been shown quite the same courtesy over the last 10 years, which is a shame, because unlike the selfish characters that inhabit it, the film is actually worthy of all the praise.


Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:

While it’s nice to see that Paramount is digging a little deeper into their catalog for movies to re-release on Blu-ray, “Election” is a bit of a disappointment. The new digital transfer is noticeably cleaner, but still not perfect, while the only special features is an audio commentary by writer/director Alexander Payne. It’s actually a pretty decent commentary, with info about filming in Ohama as well as other random tidbits, but by failing to include a certain deleted scene that he discusses in detail early on, the studio missed a golden opportunity to make the single-disc release a must-have for fans.

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