On this election day, I wanted to talk about a film that really encapsulates what most modern elections, especially this one, are about. A revenge seeking electorate creating a candidate that looks great superficially but is merely an empty shell underneath, then propping up said candidate to satisfy their own deeper resentment for his opponent, no matter what lines they cross. That film my fellow Americans is the 1999 comedy Election, starring Matthew Broderick, Chris Klein, and Academy Award Winner Reese Witherspoon.
Election is a film that caught me by SURPRISE when I first saw it. This was Chris Klein’s first film, Witherspoon wasn’t big yet and Broderick was dead to me after Godzilla. So, I wasn’t expecting it to be as funny as it is. The wholesome setting and simple story mixed with the quirky and sometimes dirty humor is a terrific combination. It is much like Fargo in that regard. Election and Citizen Ruth were director Alexander Payne’s beginnings in finding the abnormal in normal modern society. They are the roots for his later films About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants. Though, Election is a little more slapstick than the rest. Some of the jokes are subtle and hidden, like the the way Tracy Flick’s block letter buttons and posters seem to look like something else if squint at it. Then some are just over the top hilarious, like Mr. McAllister’s encounter with a bee. Overall, Election is as great as it is because of its characters and the performances of the actors playing them. So, I want to focus mainly on that.
Tracy Flick is simply amazing. She is that girl you hated in your chemistry class that reminded the teacher to give out homework. The girl who had a fuzzy pink scrunchy that matched her fuzzy pink sweater that matched her fuzzy pink pen cap. The girl that would stalk the halls like a hungry lioness, accosting people with a clipboard and guilting them into participating in a food drive or a blood drive or a clothes for blind Indonesian midgets drive. Man, I hated that girl. Reese Witherspoon plays this overly ambitious go-getter in a scarily accurate way. Amy Poehler, whether she admits to it or not, owes her entire character of Leslie Knope from Parks And Recreations to Reese. Tracy Flick is Leslie Knope in high school. It is uncanny. Reese has gone on to do many things since, including winning the Oscar for Walk The Line. However, when I want to point to a great Witherspoon performance, I point to Tracy Flick every time.
It is a bit surreal watching Matthew Broderick go from being the teen rebel to the vindictive and devious authority figure. Shows I’m getting old. Though, Broderick plays the character of Mr. McAllister in a more sympathetic way than Dean Rooney. His performance, as well as all the performances in Election, are done in a way where you can understand where each character is coming from. When I first saw this film, I saw Mr. McAllister as the bad guy. However, the older I got, the more I began to side with his point of view. The one crying shame about Broderick is that he does such a great job in this film but in the same year he does such a horrid job in this one.
Bar none…Bar…none, this is Chris Klein’s funniest performance. Well, I’m not counting his unintentionally hilarious performance in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Paul Metzler is the unsung comedic force of this film. His aloof, matter of fact, ho-hum nature is so funny and SURPRISINGLY real, I was convinced for a while that Klein was pretty much like Paul in real life. All of the narrations in this film are funny but his make me laugh the most.
A lot of kudos should go to actress Jessica Campbell. Her portrail of Tammy Metzler and her tragic side story is one of the most heartfelt moments of the film. She feels real in the role and makes the emotions of a teenage sexual identity crisis seem genuine and still funny.
Election is one of those movies that gets overlooked when it comes to great comedies. It proves you can still get a belly laugh out of an audience without a flatulence joke or some once great comedian dressed in a fat suit. Go out and vote…PICK FLICK….watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.