Monday, April 12, 2010

Election (1999) DVD / a film by Alexander Payne; based on the novel by Tom Perrotta; starring Matthew Broderick & Reese Witherspoon

"None of this would have happened if Mr. McAllister hadn't meddled the way he did."
All Jim McCallister ever wanted to do was teach. A man of modest means and wants, he sincerely enjoys his days instructing the students in his US Government classes at Carver High, interacting with their young intellects and watching their growing minds confront the world. He likes it when they do well, when they achieve and, in most cases, when they excel. But one thing he does not like, in fact, something he's recently come to loathe vehemently (exceedingly more so since a pivotal indiscretion got his best friend fired) is students driven to succeed at all costs, ones like junior Tracy Flick who unswervingly pursue selfish aims at the expense of others and proceed to make a hollow mockery out of the democratic notion of an election--especially one as trivial as the race for student body president. For Mr. McAllister, the Tracy Flicks of the world do the most damage; they're far more harmful than any combination of troublemakers, burnouts or juvenile miscreants and more determined besides. Tracy might be able to conceal her covetous ill-tempered demeanor behind a facade of way-too-perky cheerfulness, but Jim knows, even if no one else does, that she's a ruthless, wanton firebrand who must be stopped.
Everyone at Carver knows who Tracy Flick is, even if they're not really friends with her (or would want to be). Tracy is a compulsive overachiever, the kind of student who promptly shoots up her hand to answer every question, studies fastidiously and stays everyday after school participating in all manner of transcript-worthy activities and every possible extracurricular, particularly ones befitting the 'leadership' mold, hence her devotion to the student council. With her impeccable grades, tenured SGA track and abundant publicity material (posters, banners, pens, buttons, cupcakes, etc.), Tracy's confident of her impending nomination and forthcoming election as student body president, even more so as it looks like she'll be running unopposed. That is, until out of the blue, a second candidate enters the race, popular jock Paul Metzler, and then even more bizarrely, a third, his sister Tammy, who's nomination speech is wildly applauded for its decidedly anarchist platform. Convinced her destiny is being interfered with ("The weak are always trying to sabotage the strong") an insistent Tracy sets her sights firmly on her goal, taking the action she feels is necessary to ensure her success on election day.
Election really isn't a high school movie, even with Matthew Broderick's ironic and deviliciously satirical portrayal of well-meaning educator brought to his knees by the headstrong actions of one of his students. It's a movie about people and personalities, how the confluence of individuals confined within institutions inevitably breeds far-reaching repurcussions which are usually harmless, but can, at times, be totally life altering. The film's use of voiceover narration is spot on; input by all four principle characters presiding 'above' the action in a monotone, even-keeled delivery provides a clever nuance to this admirably introspective film. There's a pervading sense of open-mindedness about things. The mood's never overly demonstrative or mean-spirited, just observant and mildly curious, offering a story which plays like a fable or parable as much as an anecdotal piece. Directory Alexander Payne's (Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt) use of satire is refreshingly omnidirectional and without malice, providing a non-partisan, even-handed take on the world and its wrongdoers who might ruin things for others and create a mess but are never all that bad--just, well, real.

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