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Review: Election (1999)

Election (1999)

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Premise: A high school history teacher (Matthew Broderick) finds himself in an ethical mess when he tries to derail the student council elections and prevent an over eager female student (Reese Witherspoon) from taking the role of president.

What Works: Election is a smart comedy that borders on outrageousness but tempers that with a cool cynicism that gives the film a mischievous quality, much like Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The picture sets out to subvert and cross barriers but does it an understated way that develops character and escalates the conflict of the story. Election is able to accomplish something extraordinary in its narrative: the film manages to tell its story from multiple points of view, shifting from one to the other with complete ease. The characters of the film are very interesting to watch and Election is able to give quite a large cast a lot to do and some complex motivations and character development. The two leads, Matthew Broderick as a high school teacher who unwittingly compromises himself, and Reese Witherspoon as a student willing to do whatever it takes to get elected, are a great pair. The other characters, such as Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia), a lesbian looking for love, and Paul (Chris Klein), her thick-headed but well meaning brother, come into some very interesting conflicts through the process of the election. The film intertwines each character’s circumstances with the politics of the school, showing how nearly each one of them is corrupted by their ambition. Through the story, the film opens up a lot of interesting issues about ethics and presents them in ways that are highly comedic and very pointed.

What Doesn’t: Election does have a long conclusion and the very ending stretches credibility somewhat, but the payoff of the final scene is worth the tax on our suspension of disbelief.

DVD extras: Commentary track.

Bottom Line: Election is a terrific film. Like The Devil Wears Prada, the film examines what individuals will do to get ahead and how they risk losing their integrity in the process. It is a fine film that makes for a good laugh with thought provoking drama.

Episode: #153 (August 19, 2007)