Film Review – Election (1999)

Title – Election (1999)

Director – Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

Cast – Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Delaney Driscoll

Plot – Quietly spoken high school teacher Jim McAllister (Broderick) gets caught up in a fiesty school election featuring high achiever Tracy Flick (Witherspoon), football jock Paul Metzler (Klein) and his younger sister Tammy (Campbell).

“Some people say I’m an overachiever, but I think they’re just jealous”

Review by Eddie on 15/09/2020

Far from the typical high school comedy some may expect, well-regarded 1999 dramedy Election is a socially observant exercise skewered towards the pitch black as director Alexander Payne brings Tom Perrotta’s cult novel to life in vibrant fashion.

Focusing on Matthew Broderick’s seemingly steady everyman high school teacher Jim McAllister, whose life begins to take a turn for the worse when he gets involved in determined know it all student Tracy Flick’s campaign for school president, Election is far from a laugh riot as we are exposed to an abundance of flawed individuals who are making life altering decisions that don’t seem at all times to be in their best interest.

The film will be perhaps too dark for some, with its themes of adultery, illegal relationships and questionable moral acts all the type of things that don’t make Election one for light viewer pleasures despite its seemingly colorful disposition, but as is always the case with Payne films and Perrotta’s more noted works like Little Children, Election is at times starkly relatable and shines a light on issues and topics that aren’t always pleasant or easy to talk about.

Front and centre to this multi-layered narrative, that also includes an early Chris Klein performance as fellow presidential candidate and simple jock Paul Metzler and his younger sister Tammy (played by Jessica Campbell), is Broderick in one of his best and against type performances and a star making Reese Witherspoon who lights up the screen as the hard to love but somehow hard to hate Tracy, who is the films little pocket rocket that refuses to be held back.

From the moment we first see Tracy on screen, carefully setting up her sign-up desk with perfectly placed folders and a bowl of free gum sticks, Witherspoon owns the role and as her quest to be the head honcho of the student council leads her down some slightly depraved and messy paths, Payne has a lot of fun exploring the character that remains to this day one of the most iconic high school figures of cinematic history.

Just like its characters and their ideals, Election is a flawed exercise but its a humanly relatable one and by examining a seemingly small-scale high school orientated issue Payne somehow manages to explore much larger themes and does so in a heartfelt and honest way that isn’t always easy viewing, but is viewing that’s memorable none the less.

Final Say – 

A dark and depraved high school set drama with tinges of pitch black comedy and screenwriting gold, Election isn’t top of its class but its one of the most unique and confronting school set features of the 90’s.

3 1/2 bee stings out of 5  

13 responses to “Film Review – Election (1999)

  1. Saw it for the first time this summer. Really holds up well. You can find symbolism in so many different things, this is a great film to just sit around and talk about afterwards.

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