Election (1999) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
457 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Cynical - just the way I like them!
AsharaDayme20 February 2000
This is quite simply one of the finest movies I have ever seen. It has incredible pace and flair, with both the script and the direction demanding equal attention. And it just works so well on so many levels. Whilst it is a political satire, it also stands well as a story in its own right. It's great to see Matthew Broderick in a good film. Reese Witherspoone turns in what I consider to be a career-best, and Chris Klein is wonderfully endearing as a jock with a heart of gold.

What I really love about Election is the way its pace doesn't let up at all. By the time you've finished you feel like you've seen a good two and a half hours of movie. It's the only film I know that seems longer than it is in a good way.

This film made me laugh out loud more than any other I can remember that isn't just a dumb comedy. But Election also doesn't take itself too seriously. The direction can accurately be described as deadpan - with Chris Klein, stripped of his ability to play football, gazing soulfully out to sea, and falling asleep over a book on philosophy. The way that each major character is afforded a voice-over, giving us an amusing insight into their psyche, is a wonderful technique, and the freezeframes of Reese Witherspoone's contorted facial expressions truly are moments to treasure.

What more can I say? Election is smart, funny, and biting. It maintains its brilliance for the entire duration of the movie, and the ending is wholly satisfying. In fact, I can't actually think of one word of criticism. You'll have to search long and hard to find a better film anywhere, which is why I'm giving it a stellar nine out of ten.
106 out of 140 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Looks like you could use a cupcake
tieman6414 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Everyone's a politician in "Election", Alexander Payne's dark comedy about a student presidential election. Genius and overachiever Flick (Reese Witherspoon) acts like a chirpy angel on the outside, but look closer and she's vindictive, mean spirited and sexually precocious. Teacher Jim McAllister, who enthusiastically helps his students and school, is no better, as he cheats on his wife and embarks on a plot to ruin Flick's electoral chances. And on and on it goes, Payne peeling back pretence to reveal a cast of nasty, predatory schemers. Teachers suck up to students for sex, students selfishly run for candidacy in an attempt to get kicked out of school, and others merely take part in the election because they were manipulated into running. The point: life's a political rally, everyone has an ulterior motive, everyone's a spin-doctor, everyone's constantly maintaining their own little user generated political campaigns, designed to mislead, sucker, curry favour and win votes of confidence. Open your mouth and you're playing the game too.

"Election" does well to depict human behaviour as a cycle of neural elections, biochemical ballots held in our heads in which conflicting aspects of our messy personalities vie for what we say and do. But there's no democracy in our heads, and often instead a predisposition to tyranny; a kind of soft, interior fascism.

Payne traces the damage and consequences of this, each of his characters unwittingly leaving a trail of pain and destruction in their wake. They all pretend to "mean well" but no one means what they say, self-interest trumps altruism and altruism masks darker, swirling emotions anyway. It's a hopeless film.

"Election" was released a year after Wes Anderson's "Rushmore", a film whose plot it heavily resembles. But Payne's tone is closer to Todd Solondz and to a lesser extent the follies of the Coens, Neil Labute and Woody Allen. It's a conceited film, too impressed with its own cynicism, pessimism, and cast of cartoonish cretins, perverts, jerks and losers, but Payne is also perceptive in the way he forces you to continually reassess his characters. Little Flick, for example, seems like Payne's villain, but on the other hand she's a marginalised, lonely, sexually abused girl whose drive to succeed is the result of external pressures working on her. A similar inadequacy fuels her teacher McAllister, who sabotages Flick's campaign because his own life is in shambles. McAllister rationalises his actions as being ethical because Flick sabotaged the campaigns of other candidates – and on one level he's right to do this – but Flick's plot to exclude the other candidates, which echoes McAllister's plot to exclude Flick, itself merely echoes the social exclusion (deleted scenes further highlight that Flick lives in poverty) or alienation that drives Flick into politics. It's a kind of feedback loop, selfishness and jealousy breeding selfishness and jealousy, in which every subject justifies their action as being ethical because the other has no ethics.

"Election" is often touted as a satire on political campaigns. But the film is barely a satire, and has very little to do with politics, other than its broad jabs and your typical US candidates. In this regard you have the stuck up conservative who is secretly liberal in her private life and eventually reveals herself to be a kind of joyless Orwellian freak. Then there's the rich airhead candidate who's privately moral and upstanding but nevertheless knows and stands for nothing. Meanwhile, another candidate embodies a form of very modern, impotency and apathy. She eventually ditches the system to make out with her lesbian lover. Matthew Broderick, formerly known as a youth star of 1980s high school movies, is well cast in a somewhat ironic adult role. In the 80s, his characters typically rallied against the type of character he plays here.

8/10 – Worth one viewing.
7 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Flick for President?
evanston_dad5 December 2005
The Academy Award attention heaped on "Sideways" helped to make Alexander Payne a mainstream name among casual film goers, but many of us knew about his talent as a film maker long before. And his two more recent films--"Sideways" and "About Schmidt"--have been much gentler (thought still terrific) than his earlier efforts. Before "Election," Payne had already made "Citizen Ruth," a caustic, bracing satire of the abortion issue, and "Election" continued his penchant for harsh, uncomfortable comedy. I mean that in a good way, though. Payne's movies are funny, but they make you uneasy for laughing at them, and they have sharp, intelligent insights into the attitudes that drive American values.

In "Election," Payne uses a high school class presidential election as an opportunity to lampoon everything that's goofy about the American political system. Just as in our national elections for president, the winner is not necessarily the person with the most integrity, and honesty is a liability, not a virtue. The person who is willing to play dirtiest comes out on top, and elections aren't about who is most qualified but rather about who is most popular. And, the best part about the movie is its acknowledgement of voter apathy. Most Americans don't really give a damn, something that makes them not so different from the majority of high schoolers who don't even understand the point of having a class president to begin with. In fact, in the film's best scene, the assembly at which each candidate gives her/his campaign speech, one of the candidates (who joins the race out of spite) gets the best reception from the crowd when she encourages everyone not to vote at all.

Reese Witherspoon gives a wonderful performance as Tracy Flick, the school's most likely to succeed, whose goodie-goodie exterior hides the fact that she's willing to do just about anything to get ahead. Matthew Broderick is refreshingly unlikable as a social studies teacher who would like to see Tracy fail just once, until the fact that his own life is falling apart turns this wish into an obsession. And Chris Klein has some fun as the dopey, Jesus-following popular guy who becomes Tracy's arch rival, but never really even knows it.

Payne doesn't tidy up his film's moral messages. On the one hand, Tracy is obnoxious, and we want to see her fail as much as Broderick's character does. But she does know how to play the game, and isn't that part of what makes someone a good leader? We sympathize with Broderick up to a point, but his motives really are driven by a personal vendetta, not by any altruistic ideal of right vs. wrong. So if you normally need someone to root for in order to enjoy a movie, you're probably not going to like this one.

But who expects a hero?...I mean, come on, we're talking about American politics here.

Grade: A
61 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Alexander Payne's uncompromising look at highschool politics. Foul-mouthed, sharp and funny
Camera-Obscura28 October 2006
With me, Alexander Payne can do no wrong. Before he entered Hollywood's big league of directors with ABOUT SCHMIDT and SIDEWAYS, he made this remarkable film about a highschool election. But this is hardly your average highschool flick, this is an intelligently written, foul-mouthed film, filled with colorful characters and plenty of laughs in the process.

In a pitch-perfect role, Reese Witherspoon is Tracy Flick, one of those irritating girls that are always in the front row, always raise their hand and wanna do something for the sake of the school, read, for their own resume. Tracy Flick is one of those, a fiercely calculating careerist who will stop at nothing to get the main prize, the office of student body president at Carver High. Since she's running unopposed, nothing seems in her way at getting what she wants, again. History teacher and student government adviser Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller reversed) seems content with his life, but is worn out by his love-less marriage, and by the plight of his best friend and colleague, sacked for sleeping with consenting but under age Tracy Flick. With the coming elections, McAllister is appalled by the prospect of working closely with this little nagging career bitch, and charged with overseeing the proceedings, discreetly sponsors a rival candidate, dumb but popular jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), to enter the election. But when Paul's sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), an embittered and unpopular girl announces her candidacy, the election becomes a really back-biting and nasty affair, with Jim McAllister getting more than he bargained for.

I think this film might appeal even more to adults than teenagers. If you like Alexander Payne's uncompromising approach to his subjects, this will definitely be up your alley, with everything from lesbianism to adultery thrown in the mix. Ideally casted all the way, with Matthew Broderick, after a number of uninteresting roles in lame movies, really making his mark. He gives his role a sort of understatement that makes Mr. McAllister a hopelessly tragic, but utterly lovable loser.

Camera Obscura --- 9/10
44 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the best dark comedies ever
Timmy21015 July 2003
Election is easily my favorite comedy and one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It brings out the best in most of it's cast and the stylistic quality of the film is both outrageous and subtle at the same time. However, the most amazing part of Election is that it makes an incredible movie and bases it around a subject so simple as a high school election.

But do not be fooled by it's simplicity in basic plot because hiding behind it's summary is a film that truly was underappreciated and very underrated. MTV has never and will never again get a movie as stunning as this.

Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of her career by playing Tracy Flick, a neurotic, self-obsessed go getter with a somewhat dark past that puts her on edge with Jim McCalister, a teacher who truly will stop at nothing to bring her down.

I will not say any more about Election except that those who have not seen this movie are truly missing out on an amazing film
55 out of 83 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the best 'high school' movies
napierslogs7 July 2010
"Election" is a dark comedy - dark and funny. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is an over-achiever and creates havoc in the life of her teacher (Matthew Broderick) as the school elections approach.

I have to echo the sentiment that this is one of the best (if not the best) movie set in a high school. It's hard to even call it a high school movie as the topics encompass a broader range, and it's a very intelligent and thoughtful script. It's dramatic with its dark situations, and at the same time it's a very smart comedy.

Starring a young Reese Witherspoon who proves her bright future and Matthew Broderick who is perfect in the role and floats effortlessly between drama and comedy. A well deserved Oscar nomination for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for the screenplay. Their other movies include "About Schmidt" (2002) and "Sideways" (2004).

"Election" is one of the best films of its kind. I recommend it.
16 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An outstanding satire
androoren1 February 2005
Ethics and Morals

I'm not generally a fan of excessive voice-over and quirky, stylised direction but here it's all done so well. It seems to suffer from that classic "this film didn't make sense" style of review, but it clearly does. A wonderful script with a great mix of slapstick and intelligent comedy and winning performances from Broderick, a brilliant Reese Witherspoon and the normally hapless Chris Klein.

And, yes, it has sex in it. It's hardly titillating and is always completely relevant to the plot. But if you simply hate seeing sex (not nudity, of which there is very little) in films then you won't like it.

It beats Rushmore to the 'best film set in a high school' award.
69 out of 114 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the most pleasurable aspects of the film is its total lack of sentimentality…
Nazi_Fighter_David6 December 2008
High-school comedies became popular because the milieu was familiar to a large proportion of the film-going audience… But the best examples of the genre in the 1980s and 1990s satirized not only the constant battle of the sexes, but other elements in American life… The frequent struggles between jocks and nerds were a kind of microcosm of the class difference which is supposed not to exist in the United States…

In "Election," one of the best examples of this popular genre, much of the humor is at the expense of the 'democratic' process… The film's guiding insight is that in practice democracy reduces to a popularity contest, in which dirty tricks are the norm…

Tracy is a Nebraskan high-school blonde who is brilliant and hard-working… She is standing for election as student president… Played by Reese Witherspoon, Tracy is bright and intolerant, eaten up by ambition and her ruthless determination to win… She is regarded with disgust by a career teacher and student adviser, Jim McAllister, for her self-righteousness, and also for her role in the dismissal of his fellow teacher Dave after a sex scandal… Jim encourages student football star Paul to stand against Tracy…
32 out of 49 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Year Early.
tfrizzell4 July 2002
Warning: Spoilers
A unique microcosm of politics in the U.S. is shown in "Election", one of the most interesting productions of 1999. Set in a high school, young over-achiever Reese Witherspoon feels that she should be the next student council president. Teacher Matthew Broderick feels that Witherspoon is an evil and manipulative person who just thinks about herself and her own status. Enter dumb jock Chris Klein, who does have a good heart and a fair amount of popularity. Broderick talks him into running and the madness begins. Add Klein's lesbian sister, Broderick's torrid affair and ballot tampering and you have a film that shows its intelligence and shows the lengths that people will go to further their own lives at the expense of others. Neat and smart little satire. Some parts seem to be foreshadowers to the awful presidential election of 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush. 4 stars out of 5.
48 out of 80 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A fun, cynical film
Agent1029 April 2002
For some reason, this film has always brought a laugh to the bottom of stomach. Some people may call it boring due to the fact its not some gross-out teen comedy, but this is really the antithesis of a great satire. One can't see the scaly nature of politics simply because its always drowned in newspeak and bad reporting. But to see it at this level of understanding, it proves to be quite entertaining. It also provides a precursor to our most recent (2000) election. We have the longtime politician, the incompetent who people like, and the iconoclast who wants to shake up government. And of course, there is the cheating regulator who gets the wrong person elected for his own slimy means. Who would have guessed life would imitate art. A great film for all to see. Matthew Broderick is at his best, Reese Witherspoon really sells her role, and I actually tolerated Chris Klein's role in this film.
33 out of 54 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not totally convincing but an enjoyable dark comedy that swipes at politics and sexual relations
bob the moo10 July 2004
James McAllister is a contented high school teacher who is presiding over the elections for school president this year. However, the only student running for the position is the overly keen Tracey Flick – a driven student who he feels is callous and blames for his best friend being fired for falling in love with her. Desperate to prevent her becoming president, James convinces injured jock Paul to run, prompting Paul's love-scorned sister to also stand. Where once the presidency was a good clean-cut race, Tracey takes the competition badly, and it descends into something a lot more sinister.

I wasn't totally sure about this film but I had heard good things about it and, even though the fact that it was an MTV Production put me off a bit, I decided to give it a try. The film is quite clever for the most part and takes the worn genre and clichés of high school movies and makes them into a quite good little political satire of sorts – albeit one that is rather downbeat at times. The comedy is not laugh out loud funny and maybe that's a problem, but I enjoyed the parallels with modern politics (and sexual issues) and found it to make some good points in a funny way. Of course the end is rather downbeat but only because it is sadly believable.

I must say that I was rather put off by a couple of different things. The first was the amount of sexual material in the film – not a real problem but I was a little put off by how graphically the subject of underage sex was dealt with. This was a minor problem (if you can pardon the pun!) but what I found a little worrying was Payne's apparent misogynistic touch on the film – all the men were hapless saps and the women held the real power all the way; I'm not saying this is not true but Payne has little sympathy for his female characters and they may come off better overall but there is no love lost for them.

The cast opens with an amusing bit of role reversal that sees everyone's favourite high school student become a teacher in the shape of Matthew Broderick. Hardly having the best run of roles for a while, he is actually pretty good here even if some of what happens to his character doesn't seem to fit very well. Witherspoon is annoying but the difference here is that it is intentional! She easily fits into the character and her role has a great touch to it – I'm not saying it is easy to enjoy her performance but she is good. Klein does his usual dumb jock thing but is fortunate that he has the material to support (this time) but I felt Campbell was left with a sympathetic character that was placed on the sidelines too much.

Overall I enjoyed this film but it had its limitations. It isn't hilariously funny as many coming to this genre may expect but it is quite cleverly written. The story struggles a bit as it goes along, with threads left hanging that stop it being as tight as it maybe could have been but generally I enjoyed it but can see why some others have problems with it.
33 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Witherspoon and Broderick make this work
SKG-219 November 1999
I don't know how many people who saw ELECTION saw Alexander Payne's previous film, CITIZEN RUTH(1996). That film was a satire on abortion, with Laura Dern as a pregnant homeless woman with several children already taken away by social services, and who is caught in a tug-of-war between pro-choice and pro-life activists. I've never seen an abortion satire before, so that was fresh, but all the characters where instead caricatures, so it was difficult for me to laugh. And the points were made with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer swatting a fly.

ELECTION suffers somewhat from that problem, but most of it works. Much of that, of course, is due to Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Both of them embody their characters down to a T, and while they show us their flaws and their laughable parts, they also made them human beings. As much as we're meant to dislike Tracy, for example, I actually felt sorry for her when she talked about being lonely. And how events proceed between them is logical and well-told.

Less well-done is Chris Klein as the jock who runs against Tracy. He's likeable at times, but I could see Klein condescend to him and make him a boob at times(as his sister Tammy, on the other hand, Jessica Campbell makes a good impression; I was actually surprised at an action she took, though it does make sense). I also thought the sexual repression stuff was obvious and overdone, especially when Broderick sees and hears Tracy when he's making love. We got that already. Nevertheless, this is often funny and biting.
31 out of 60 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
And that's our electoral system, folks!
lee_eisenberg17 January 2006
"Election" is a satire on our electoral system, set in an Omaha high school. Reese Witherspoon is overachiever Tracy Flick, trying as hard as possible to get elected. But teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) will try as hard as possible to stop her, even if it means a few unethical actions.

Probably the best scene in the movie is the debates. After Tracy and Paul debate, Paul's sister Tammy says something to the effect of: "What's the deal with school elections? Class president is just something that people like to put on college applications. If I get elected, I think that I'll eliminate these positions altogether." As far as I'm concerned, that's a totally accurate statement. All in all, anyone who wants to really understand our electoral system need only watch "Election". Perfect.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Vote for Election...
MaxBorg8929 December 2005
Okay, so we know one side of American high schools, the one where students'only concerns are related to alcohol, sex and drugs, a situation we've witnessed in both comedies (American Pie etc) and serious movies (The Rules of Attraction). In this cynical satire, on the other hand, we get to see what really goes on in all the classes, offices and hallways that mean so much to US people.

As the title says, the movie is about an election, more precisely the one which will decide who is gonna be the new president of the student body. There are three candidates, and they couldn't be more different: Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is an annoying, over-intelligent, overambitious, spoiled girl who wants nothing less than the best and is willing to do anything to obtain it (if Lisa Simpson and King Kong's Carl Denham had a kid, it would be her), Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) is an ex football champion who thinks he can do good things for his fellow students, as well as gain some popularity, while his sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is running for president only because Paul "stole" her "girlfriend". Actually, a fourth person is involved, too: Tim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a teacher who just loves his job, tries to keep his marriage together and wishes he could prevent Tracy from winning the election. These people's paths are gonna cross, with unusual, unexpected results...

Election is one of the most original comedies of all time, and it's suggested to anyone who's considering a screen writing career: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's script breathes fresh air into the genre, with dialogue so sharp you usually hear it only on HBO (some of the exchanges are worthy of Six Feet Under or, outside subscription channel territory, Desperate Housewives). And that dialogue works thanks to the actors who got the wonderful job of delivering it: Broderick, in particular, has an impeccable comic timing, making us laugh with no difficulty, even when he's being serious (I wonder what he will do replacing Gene Wilder in The Producers), but it's Witherspoon who grabs all the attention, giving us the performance of a lifetime. More than her most famous character, Elle Woods, Tracy Flick is the ultimate proof "blonde" doesn't equal "totally stupid".

Tired of conventional comedy? Watch Election, it's really worth it.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Freshest Teen Movie For A Long Time
emperor_weevil22 July 2004
This film was a real gem. ITV showed it over the midnight hour and I think Election deserved a better time slot than this.

The film is told from several different points of view, so all viewers will enjoy watching it because they will like one of the intertwined story lines, in my opinion.

Matthew Broderick is excellent as the helpful teacher, as is Reese Witherspoon as the overambitious high school girl with a mean streak. Election contains a good mix of drama and comedy, especially some of the end scenes which almost remind me of the last scene in The Butterfly Effect. However, it doesn't linger on the drama for too long in the final scenes, which is a good thing as it left me with a smile on my face after having seen the film.

Overall, an excellent "teen" comedy which I highly recommend, if only for the sort-of feel-good ending.
17 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
tedg26 August 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Writing a film must be a challenging balancing act, eversomore in the case of comedy. Part of what you write has to be so exceedingly familiar, so that viewers can get established with the basic physics of the world you introduce them to. But to make it engaging, you've got to introduce quirks, and twists, and ironies, and comic annotations and reversals.

You've got to make that first choice about what is ordinary before you even think about being clever. The two most accessible experiences for the largest demographic (at least in the U. S.) are high school and obsessive sex. With a few words and images in each, you can register which common scenario you are in, before the voyage begins.

The setup here isn't particularly deft, but it doesn't have to be. High school. Simple people. Simple motives, in fact every dramatic turn in this project is triggered by some slight impression or annoyance. Each trigger leads to the extreme: infatuation or obsession of some type. Each trigger (dumbly noted by an apple) leads to a downfall except for the two clueless kids, and I suppose the tragicomic point is that they have no idea of the damage left in their wake.

The twists and turns were pretty edgy I thought. More clever than Wes Anderson and less visceral than Harmony Korine. But all this is of the same school which is anti story architecture, pro capricious twists. The twists have to seem that they just happened to the writer based on random selection or happenstance, not deliberation, like say the stream in `Go.'

Witherspoon is good enough, but the part doesn't demand much. All her comic timing is from the playbook, as it should be because of the setup. She, with Julia Stiles is part of a post-Ricci crop of moon-shaped flatfaced actresses. Odd how these things go -- fashion in facial appeal -- not much unlike the dynamics of the election portrayed here.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
7 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
mikeysazulita20 July 2001
The book was incredible, and the movie didn't let me down either. "ELECTION" is hilarious. It's such a dark and twisted movie, I found myself liking Matthew Broderick again. Reese Witherspoon was unbelievable as the awfully annoying Tracy Flick. You find yourself laughing at all the characters and wondering if you feel any sympathy for the meddling Mr. M, who was a cool teacher I liked solely because he loathed Tracy Flick, but turned into a loser as the movie went along. If you enjoy comedies like "Office Space", you'll enjoy this crazy film. It's one of my favorites!
7 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the funniest films I have seen in a while!
Smells_Like_Cheese13 July 2006
The great thing about "Election" is that it's not really a laugh out loud type of film, but it just makes you laugh from beginning to end. You just know at that last second of the film you just saw a good movie. It's about a teacher played by Matthew Broderick, Mr. Maccaslister who seems to have a doubtful life but thinks highly of himself. He is a little overwhelmed by Tracy Flick, she's the overachiever of the high school, you remember those people?

When nobody decides to run against Tracy, Mr. Maccalister is sure to destroy her and nominate the most popular jock in high school, Chris Klein. When he takes his sister's crush away, another girl, his sister runs against him and Tracy for president. The whole movie just goes around how horrible these people truly are, despite their high opinions of themselves.

I highly recommend Election for a good laugh, this is a true comedy that I really enjoyed. I think you will too, so think not what you can do for your movies, but what your movies could do for you. That made more sense in my head. :P

6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"Dear Lord Jesus, I really must insist that you help me win the election tomorrow"
Terrell-41 April 2008
"Dear Lord Jesus," prays Tracy Flick the night before the election for student body president, "I do not often speak with you and ask for things, but now, I really must insist that you help me win the election tomorrow because I deserve it and Paul Metzler doesn't, as you well know. I realize that it was your divine hand that disqualified Tammy Metzler and now I'm asking that you go that one last mile and make sure to put me in office where I belong so that I may carry out your will on earth as it is in heaven. Amen."

Tracy (Reese Witherspoon) is an overachieving senior in suburban George Washington Carver High School (where the student body is all white). What Tracy wants, she gets, using a combination of single-minded hard work, bright smiles as phony as a television infomercial, eager volunteering and a ruthlessness that varies between chirpiness and squinted eyes. As Tracy says, quoting her Mom, "The weak are always trying to sabotage the strong."

Then one of Tracy's teachers, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) decides the world needs to be saved from Tracy. He talks one of the school's popular football athlete's to run against Tracy. From now on Jim has his hands full trying to sabotage Tracy's relentless campaign, impregnate his wife, convince himself his next door neighbor, a recent divorcée, is really going to understand him if they can only check into a motel for a couple of hours...and deal with the consequences of everything he set in motion.

Election, written and directed by Alexander Payne, is one of the funniest, darkest satires of human behavior since Jonathan Swift recommended that the poor should simply sell their children to be eaten by the rich. There are a lot of teenagers in this movie, but it's not just another teen-age movie. We're looking at the ludicrous depths to which ambition and good intentions, when mixed with politics, can take us. If that seems ponderous, it's about as ponderous as Tracy Flick's mom writing compulsively to people like Connie Chung and Elizabeth Dole asking for advice. (Never give up on your dreams is the usual reply.)

The script moves from the exaggerated to the outlandish with great style. The actors deliver the goods with deadpan sincerity and self-serving honesty. Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick hits the bull's-eye with unnerving accuracy. She is so sincere in her insincerity, which is, in Tracy Flick's own way, completely sincere, that Witherspoon makes us smile and shudder at the same time. As outstanding as she is, Matthew Broderick is the heart of the movie. Jim McAllister is part lech, part nebbish, but mostly good guy. It's a funny, almost poignant performance. Payne's script and Broderick's acting give us a perfect ending that's just as brittle, cool and amusing as the rest of the movie.

I like Election a lot. I hope as time passes the movie isn't forgotten.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
When it focuses on the High School it's at its best
estebangonzalez1027 December 2013
"You see, you can't interfere with destiny, that's why it's destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing's just going to happen anyway, and you'll just suffer."

Election is Alexander Payne's sophomore film and many consider it to be his best work since it uses some slick and witty dark humor to make a satirical political comedy. Payne manages to mix this political satire with High School life by using the school elections as a metaphor for American politics and in doing so the film is rather successful. Just like that famous short essay written by Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Learn I Learned in Kindergarten" where he claims that if we sticked to the basic rules we learned in kindergarten we would live in a better society, here Payne compares politics to High School elections and shows how corrupt the system actually can be and how selfish these people are. The dirty campaigns all begin in High School and these people seem to be doing things for themselves rather than to help others. I think this is what works best in Payne's ambitious film. I enjoyed the scenes that took place in the High School, but when Payne takes us out of the school to the characters homes it kind of loses its magic. I didn't care very much about their lives outside of school. One of the things that Payne does best is create interesting characters and that is why the actors give engaging performances because they have a lot to work with. These characters are usually dislikable, but somehow we end up routing for one despite all their flaws. Reese Witherspoon's character is so annoying that we actually want Matthew Broderick to succeed despite all the immoral acts he is committing. They both give strong performances, although compared to other Payne films I thought they were the weakest characters. Sideways still remains as my favorite Payne film, but his work here obviously opened a lot of doors for him. Payne is one of the best when it comes to creating Midwestern American characters.

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is a very driven and ambitious student from Carver High who has high goals and expectations for her life. One of those goals is becoming class president, and despite the fact that she is running unopposed she still dedicates most of her time in school to achieving this. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is one of her teachers, but he doesn't like her very much because she had an affair with his best friend, Dave (Mark Harelik), a former teacher who got expelled from school when the director found out. Jim, who is married to Diane (Molly Hagan), decides to complicate things for Tracy by convincing the school jock, Paul (Chris Klein) to enter the race. When Paul's lesbian sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), discovers that he is campaigning for class president, she decides to run as well to pay him back for dating a former love interest of hers. And soon what seemed to be a simple election becomes chaotic as the dirty campaign begins. Will Tracy achieve her goal or will her teacher crash her dream?

The film has each character describe the events that are going on through voice over narrations. At first I thought it didn't work very well as it took me out of the story, but then I understood what Payne was trying to achieve (or at least this is what it transmitted to me), by letting his characters narrate what they were experiencing we understood what they were trying to achieve, the way they wanted others to see them, but of course their actions were completely opposite to the way they wanted to be perceived. It was like their own mask, because they were nothing like what they wanted to be perceived as (take Jim for example who considered himself a likable and influential teacher, but really he ends up being quite the opposite). The characters in this film are very well developed, but they were probably my least favorite from a Payne film. I wasn't a big fan of Chris Klein's performance, but the rest of the cast was pretty strong. The dark humor was witty, but it just wasn't my cup of tea and didn't care for any of the characters. Election may be one of Payne's most ambitious and satirical films, but I would rather sit through Sideways a hundred times than seeing these characters again.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A splendidly wicked satirical treat
Woodyanders16 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Popular, but frustrated high school civics teacher Jim McAllister (an excellent performance by Matthew Broderick) locks horns with ruthlessly driven and ambitious overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon in peak aggressively obnoxious form), who's determined to become president of Carver High's student body. McAllister convinces amiable dumb jock Paul Metzler (played with endearingly goofy charm by Chris Klein) to run for class president. Complications ensue when Paul's sassy lesbian sister Tammy (the adorable Jessica Campbell) decides to join the presidential race. Plus McAllister's personal life is starting to unravel. Director/co-writer Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor concoct a hilariously savage, cynical and unsentimental no-holds-barred satire on American society as a general whole which ingeniously uses high school as an apt microcosm of the world at large: we've got fiercely barbed commentary on such worthy topics as morals, politics, teen sexuality, marital infidelity, the lonely price of success, how all actions beget consequences that can change the rest of your life, jealousy, and blind ambition run totally amok. Kudos are also in order for the uniformly fine acting from a sound cast: Broderick and Witherspoon spar with each other beautifully well; they receive top-notch support from Klein, Campbell, Phil Reeves as ramrod principal Walt Hendricks, Molly Hagan as Jim's loving wife Diane, Delaney Driscoll as Jim's sweet and attractive lady best friend Linda Novotny, Mark Harelik as disgraced ex-teacher Dave Novotny, Colleen Camp as Tracy's supportive mother Judith R. Flick, and Frankie Ingrassia as the saucy Lisa Flannagan. James Glennon's slick, agile cinematography makes neat occasional use of freeze frames and superimpositions. Rolfe Kent's jaunty full-bore orchestral score likewise does the trick. An absolute hoot.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Built On Scathing Wit and Blistering Integrity, "Election" Creates A Moralistic, But Defeatist Paradox Like No Other
Det_McNulty8 August 2007
1999 was another year marking the end of a decade in film, a year which has provided some of the finest films ever to grace celluloid. Election was released to a small box-office intake, but a hugely positive critical response, which has since made it a cult film. It launched the careers of actors, such as, Chris Klein, who after his debut performance in Election went onto to star in the teen-garbage of the American Pie series. Yet, "dead in the water" actors like Matthew Broderick found that the film re-launched his career, notably due to the polar-opposite casting choice when you look back at his Ferris Bueller days. Then you have actress Reese Witherspoon who provides an unmatched performance (in fact one of the best I have ever viewed) in Election, which warranted all the critical acclaim it could muster and was the perfect display of acting needed to launch her continuously expanding career.

Election has what the vast majority of high-school films do not, which is a profound aptitude of control and dissection of politics. Adapted from a novel by Tom Perrotta, Election creates a contrast of high-school politics against western country politics. Reese Witherspoon embodies the personality of Tracy Flick, an ego-driven, overly ambitious and obnoxious "go-getter" who –as with everything educationally related- decides to run for the school president elections (certain that she will win). Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a teacher who has grown to resent Tracy for obvious reasons, as well as deeply-seated personal grounds. Tracy is the only student running for president and because Jim does not want to see Tracy succeed yet again he decides to bring a little competition into the game by persuading Chris Klein's character Paul Metzler to run for presidency too. Paul is one of the most popular guys in the school, meaning that Tracy feels a sting of competition due to his popularity advantage. From then-on-in the story starts to convey the personal trials and tribulations of each character as they desperately attempt to succeed in some form or another.

Alexander Payne crafts not a comedy, but a satire on corruption and the clash of morals and ethics. Built on a screenplay of sarcastic, cynical hatred for a flawed system, Election puts school into an entirely unique, yet distinguishable perspective. On first viewing of Election (I have always been very fond of it) I felt the narrative was slightly unfocused and heavy-handed at times, but on a subsequent viewing I decided that, in fact, it is not. The editing is the primary key to the film, automatically engrossing the viewer to become engaged with a narrative which is recited through four diverse character perceptions. The body language of the characters is another fundamental element of the picture, being that it echoes a considerable amount of information on the traits and general persona of each person.

Technically, the school is an allegory for the parable of school life being so prominently like that of the real world, but just not quite as unforgiving as that of the outside world. Many subtleties are littered throughout the film, for example, I noticed that seeing fruit within a scene would mark the perception of an unfortunate incident soon to occur (as well as the joke of Paul Metzler contradicting his choice of "favourite fruit" when he picks a banana from a fruit bowl). The non-linear tone of Election is what gives the film its instantly recognisable trademark style. It is the detailing of the subtleties and subtexts of school life which makes the viewer become engaged, since you want to digest everything the film is stating on the battle of justifying one's morals, while retaining society's ethics.

Election says so much about school life, it enabled me to realise just how much a teacher knows about their pupil, and ultimately that they can read a pupil like a book, which is fairly intimidating. I cannot begin to express how much I recommend this to anyone who can appreciate the peculiarities of high-school personalities and the consideration of thought-provoking comedy Alexander Payne has poured into this modern masterwork. Do believe the hype.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Gets my vote
paul2001sw-116 April 2007
Sometimes it's hard to know what's worse, a brain-dead comedy, or a comic movie of a little more substance that labours under the delusion that it carries a moral weight equivalent to Dostoeyevski. But 'Election' suffers from neither of these faults: it's a superbly timed little satire that hits all its myriad targets with exactly the right weight of punch. Matthew Broderick is excellent, while for those (like me) who can't stand Reese Witherspoon playing cute, she's much better here, playing obnoxious. Although it's superficially a high-school comedy, this film does have some serious points to make about wider life: but it's also impossible to watch without a smile on your face. It's a winner.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Surprisingly a really good comedy!
highkite24 June 2006
"Election" really works. It's not often a comedy comes out that presents us with both really good acting, good directing, but also a decent script and intelligent humor. Matthew Broderck and Reese Witherspoon shine with such humor and insight into their characters, it's almost as though they were born to play those roles. The story is very unique and makes no attempt at being pretentious, and just tells it the way it's meant to be told. Witherspoon's character, Tracy Flick, remains one of the most memorable characters in the history of comedy, as well as her own performance, which was snubbed at the Oscars for a nomination.

The movie is about Jim McAllister, told from his perspective, as he takes us through both his life and the school's most vicious students. McAllister is a respected high school teacher who partakes in many extra curricular activities including student council. As his own life slowly falls apart, Jim McAllister becomes obsessed with ruining Tracy Flick (Witherspoon) and her reputation as the smartest girl in the school by making her lose the upcoming election for school president. Chris Klein and Jessica Campbell co-star as Paul and Tammy Metzler who both run for president, ruining Flick's chances of winning.

Acclaimed director Alexander Payne creates a subtle work that communicates a highly typical and hysterical idea about jealousy, lust and betrayal. There's much more to the story than a simple back-and-forth feud between the teacher and student. The deep psychology of the characters often becomes the motive of a much bigger problem. McAllister's lack of luck is a result of his own clumsy behavior, proving that revenge is not always the best choice. Tracy Flick's troubled past comes into play to fully produce a character who's stuck-up and perfect in every way. And although "Election" is a satire, the goofy antics of almost each scene makes you scream in laughter. Truly, a movie to watch to uplift the mood.

The unique style of "Election" makes it one of the best movies of 1999. The simple, yet sophisticated screenplay and Reese Witherspoon's career-best performance keeps the movie really high on the list of Best Movies. Each second of the movie is entertaining and it never seems to be "too much". Avoiding clichés, Alexander Payne found a way to tell a typical story and intertwine some pretty funny ideas about society, as well as hilarious characters that we just love to hate. An amazing movie. Audience-friendly for everyone and anyone who enjoys a good flick.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed