Synopsis: Reading. Writing. Revenge.

Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, a straight-A go-getter determined to be president of Carver High’s student body. Popular teacher Jim McAlister (Broderick) decides to derail Tracy’s obsessive overachieving by recruiting an opposition candidate. Mr. M. never imagines that stopping Tracy is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.


Election 7.75

eyelights: Reese Witherspoon
eyesores: Chris Klein

Tracy Flick: “None of this would have happened if Mr. McAllister hadn’t meddled the way he did. He should have just accepted things as they are instead of trying to interfere with destiny. You see, you can’t interfere with destiny, that’s why it’s destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing’s just going to happen anyway, and you’ll just suffer.”

Sigh… school council elections. Geezus. I hated those. Didn’t you?

Somehow, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they were the cause of voter disconnect and apathy. When elections are synonymous with such a miserable experience, one that feels tacky, ultimately insignificant and unfairly skewed towards the best-connected of the lot, you tend to tune out. It just doesn’t feel like it’s worth the time and effort. Especially when the only thing these councils affect are things one isn’t involved in.

But some people take these elections seriously. Very seriously.

Tracy Flick certainly does. She’s spent her short life working towards the goal of becoming school council President. And, although she is running unchallenged (not even a Ficus tree in sight!), she can’t help but devote every waking hour and every ounce of effort she can muster to ensure that her victory will be decisive. Her belief is that, even if you’re number one, you have to work hard at ensuring that you remain on top.

“Look at Coca-Cola”, she argues.

I loved the whole set-up of ‘Election’. I enjoyed that we were introduced to the characters one by one and that we got voice-overs from each of them, providing their perspective on the situation. It helped to define their respective personalities one and provide contrast between them, to position them in relation to each other. This insight also adds to the drama and comedy – as the characters start playing off of each other, as the irony gets dialled up.

Knowing from the onset that there was going to be some sort of fallout from the friction between Jim McAllister and Tracy Flick added to the experience: the moment that we realize that there is no love lost there, and that it will only get worse, we are immediately thrown right into the pit with them, waiting to see how things will unfold. Not only does this capture our interest, but it also builds dramatic tension.

There was one element that I found slightly ill-fitting in this introductory exposition, however, and it was the matter of Jim’s friend’s relationship with Tracy Flick. For starters, it seemed to jump out at us from nowhere, which was awkward. Secondly, the impact of this relationship on McAllister remained slightly nebulous in the end; we don’t fully understand how this affects his view of Tracy and if he stays in touch with his buddy (and, if not, why?). Granted, it provided some back-story and set up a few things for later, but it left a lot of important questions unanswered.

All we know is that McAllister looks down on Tracy and can barely stand her. The film does a good job of showing us how she could grate on someone’s nerves, but exactly why McAllister dislikes her as much as he does remains unclear. Given that he’s a gentle, kind man, and a devoted teacher, why is it that, of all the students that he’s met over his long career, he loathes her so? Surely there must have been worse ones. Why did she get under his skin the way she did if no one else did?

“The sight of Tracy at that moment affected me in a way I can’t fully explain. Part of it was that she was spying, but mostly it was her face. Who knew how high she would climb in life? How many people would suffer because of her? I had to stop her, now.”

Jim McAllister is a puzzling character. Not only is his contempt for Tracy somewhat inexplicable, but his attraction to his best friend’s ex seems completely out of sorts. I mean, not only is he such a goodie two-shoes, but he had just witnessed his buddy’s life reduced to rubble after having his own extra-martial affair – so why does he fall into the same trap, then? That really doesn’t make sense to me. It felt like a contrivance that was forced upon the character, really.

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

Honestly, Tracy Flick can be über-irritating; she made me want to swat her like a fly. Reese Witherspoon plays her extremely well, though – she got all the ticks and tone pitch-perfect; it’s quite the performance. Unsurprisingly, she was she nominated for a number of awards, including the Golden Globes. Even though I’m not a fan of Witherspoon and truly dislike Tracy, I have to recognize the skill with which she rendered her. Well done!

“Paul… Paul Power. Paul… Paul for President. Promise… Progress… Peanut.”

Chris Klein is absolutely terrible as Paul Metzler. Admittedly, this was his first role ever. But I don’t know why he was picked, given how weak he is. And learning your craft in a lead role is not the way to go, anyway. Geez. Even though his character is simple, seemingly effortless, Klein can’t deliver a line naturally worth his life. To me, he is a blight on the picture – it would improve dramatically with someone of the proper caliber, someone who can match Broderick and Witherspoon. I already found him hard to to stand in ‘American Pie’, but this settled the deal for me – I’ll avoid any of his films in the future.

 “Who cares about this stupid election? We all know it doesn’t matter who gets elected president of Carver. Do you really think it’s going to change anything around here? Make one single person smarter or happier or nicer? The only person it does matter to is the one who gets elected. The same pathetic charade happens every year, and everyone makes the same pathetic promises just so they can put it on their transcripts to get into college. So vote for me, because I don’t even want to go to college, and I don’t care, and as president I won’t do anything. The only promise I will make is that if elected I will immediately dismantle the student government, so that none of us will ever have to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again!”

Jessica Campbell offers a very average performance, but she delivers and I liked the character. It’s amazing to me to think that Thora Birch was originally lined up for the part, but left the picture due to disagreements with the director, Alexander Payne. I much prefer Birch, but I don’t know if she would have been right for the role. Even though she doesn’t light up the screen, Campbell seems well-suited. As a side-note, I had forgotten that Tammy was a closeted lesbian and find that this was addressed realistically and unjudgementally. Nice.

I was actually quite surprised, given that it’s an MTV film (which, presumably, means it’s geared towards older teens), with the amount of sexual content and crude language in ‘Election’. There’s worse, obviously (the afore-mentioned ‘American Pie’, for instance), but I guess it’s a contextual thing – I expected something more white-washed than this. I even found the McAllisters’ lovemaking kind of sexy. Crazy, huh? It was meant to be funny, given that they were trying so hard to conceive and it had an allure of desperation to it, but I actually liked parts of it. It probably plays funnier to younger audiences.

In fact, I guess that most of the film depends on relatability. If you’re watching this while still in high school, it likely gives you a very different perspective than if you’re watching this as an adult – let alone as a parent or a teacher. It’s quite a good motion picture in that sense, because it provides different hooks for different age groups. From that perspective, ‘Election’ succeeds quite well, because it can have broad appeal. Muted, but broad appeal.

The problem is that the film tries too hard in some areas to be funny or dramatic at times when it’s completely unnecessary, thereby throwing the whole tone of the tale. For instance, when McAllister is stung by a bee, it just becomes a weird freak show element and it doesn’t really add anything to the picture. And it was so random. A bee, really? Out of nowhere like that? Does that even happen?

The whole dénouement, McAllister’s fall from grace, also seemed so unnecessary to me. Given his goodie-two-shoes personality, why would he hijack the election? And why do it so sloppily, at that? Seeing as he’s been at that school for so long, he likely would have known the process, known that each ballot would be accounted for, and known he couldn’t get away with it. If he had been subtle and removed only one ballot to make it a tie, that would have been fine. Or, at the very least, he should have cleaned out his trash. I don’t know… he seemed smarter than that.

But smart people do stupid things, I suppose. And elections are tension-filled events that are influenced by so many variables. We like to think that it’s all straight-forward and that events can be taken at face value, that the results are clear, but I suspect that it’s likely rarely the case. Campaigns and elections are run by human beings, imperfect people who have their own personal agendas, distinct outlooks and unexpected foibles. We’re lucky that elections run as smoothly as they do, really. It could always be better, for sure, and we should strive to make the process more inclusive and representative. And more honest.

‘Election’ brings up these issues on a smaller scale, but it could easily be considered in a larger context. If so much could happen with the involvement of only a small number of people, imagine what could happen when millions of people take part. And imagine what happens when the stakes are so much higher. It gets messy, for sure – think of Florida in 2000. Considered with that in mind, ‘Election’ is more than fluff, more than just a teen movie. It may not increase voter participation (perhaps even the opposite!), but it lays down the basic complexities of suffrage in a way that is both insightful and funny.

And, after a tedious Presidential campaign that seemed to have no end in sight, as we wait breaths abated to find out who will lead the United States for the next four years, there’s nothing better than a little light fare to let the air out of the balloon. Anyway, after having cast one’s ballot (and hopefully, people will have gone out in large numbers for once!), there is nothing left now but wait. Patiently. Hopefully, tomorrow morning, partisan bickering and tugs-of-war will cease and everyone will be able to move onward more united than they have been in the last twelve years. One can only hope.

Jim McAllister: “Larry, we’re not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.”

Date of viewing: October 29, 2012

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