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Election (1999)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Reading, Writing, Revenge.”

This movie's satiric lance aims at several targets, among them: politics and high school. It also performs character studies of several types of manipulative personality. It hits all those bulls-eyes. However, for the anti-statist, the send up of electoral politics reveals a rich vein of both entertainment and insight. What people do in their pursuit of winning elections provides the main theme, with the story line focused on a high school race for student government President.

I believe almost every high school has at least one teacher like Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick): charismatic, involved, well-liked by both students and faculty. Jim McAllister narrates a fair portion of this story. The movie begins showing him working out on campus before class. However, in addition to Jim McAllister's focus, the film occasionally also takes other points of view. Perhaps the next most significant focus to the story line comes from student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). Her portion of the narration begins with showing her setting up to gather nomination signatures to run for student government President.

After Tracy gives a sample of her views about destiny, Mr. McAllister talks about his love for his job as an educator. In twelve years teaching at Carver, three times he was voted the teacher of the year. In this discussion McAllister often touches upon his concern for developing an appreciation for morals and ethics in his students.

From classroom situations Jim McAllister's dislike for the ambitious Tracy seems obvious. He offers a reason by telling the story of his friend and fellow teacher Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik) and Dave's involvement with Tracy. In the switching of narrations between Tracy and Jim McAllister each give their impressions of the other person. I already mentioned that McAllister seems to dislike Tracy. On the other hand Tracy feels superior to McAllister. Of course, McAllister seems to have plenty of company in that regard.

At first Tracy has no competition in the race for student government President. This bothers Jim McAllister. In addition to Tracy and McAllister, another narrative voice joins the mix. After a skiing accident Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) can't pursue his former passion for sports. He now feels his life lacks purpose. Jim McAllister approaches Paul and convinces the injured but still very popular Paul to also seek the office of student government President. Now Tracy has competition, in fact quite a significant bit of competition. However, the build up to the Presidential election race has not finished. Paul has a sister Tammy Metzler (Jessica Campbell), a sophomore at Carver, who through an involved set of circumstances also decides to join the race for student government President. In addition, she adds her voice to the narration. Her campaign, even only her speech to the student body, makes the movie well worth watching.

Ironically, this film presents the actor who 13 years earlier starred in the title role of Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- notorious high school rebel, now in the almost opposite role of high school teacher. Matthew Broderick rises to the occasion and gives a fine performance, as do all the other actors, especially Reese Witherspoon. However, the script really lends the most to making this film special. The interesting weave of changing viewpoints and the insightful look into electoral politics: the hypocrisy it encourages in most candidates and the potential for mischief which it unleashes, make this movie well worth watching. I highly recommend Election.

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