From the Vault: Election (1999)

4.5/5

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Forget about the POTUS race – truly, let’s forget about the last one – the fight for student body president is where all the real scandal happens.

The black comedy Election is a uniquely bright satire on the electoral system based on the novel of the same name. Payne craftily knits the drama of the 1992 Bush vs Clinton election into high school.

Payne’s script remains as hilarious and appealing as ever. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is a young Hillary Clinton in the making: tenacious, smart, some might say a try-hard. She’s delightfully determined to overcome the difficulties of life. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is the teacher trying to stop her. Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) is the goofy high school athlete who gets roped into his schemes and running for president. And his sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is the heartbroken lesbian who wants vengeance on her ex-girlfriend-cum-future sister-in-law by going against her brother.

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Above all, Election is a spiritual prequel to Rockstar’s game Bully. Caricaturist and camp, it’s on the right side of fun with its tongue in its cheek. Tracy is the prep whose work ethic means she is ready to step over some bodies. Paul is the dumb jock with the heart of gold. And in true Bully fashion, the teachers in this are both childish/immoral losers who get their comeuppance.

The boldness of Election is fresh, even in 2018. Election is keen to show that democracy is as prone to being derailed biases of the Impartial Parties. Doesn’t matter if the seat is for government or the student body president. Witherspoon and Broderick,  have some of the best hateful chemistry you’re likely to ever see.

Tammy being a lesbian, whilst bringing out good laughs, is never the butt of the joke. She has her own motivations, her own gregarious personality, and her own story. For the 90’s, that’s basically woke, considering the the first overtly homosexual character didn’t even arrive on the big screen until 1991. Even now, it’s not always done well.

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Its pluckiness only falters in one place…the pedophile thing. McAllister’s friend and ex-colleague is revealed to have had a romantic affair with Tracy. A young Tracy insists that the relationship was based on mutual trust and respect. He might even agree. The guy gets what he deserves. He is fired and working a dead-end job at a grocery store at 40. Broderick’s character seems to be sympathetic him, even going as far as to have horrifying inappropriate thoughts about Tracy, dreading the day when she seduces him. There’s nothing inherently wrong with how the scenario is portrayed in the film. While McAllister might be mistaken as a sympathetic character, he does dreadful things, and his actions are punished. His way of thinking is damned at the end when the final scene shows Tracy getting into a fancy presidential-looking black limo while he looks on in jealousy. Except, it’s difficult to get past the icky-ness of the situation. Times have just changed. It doesn’t feel right to be joking about relationships with a large power imbalance, especially not with a young girl. You only need to read one or two reviews about Netflix’s Insatiable to know.

But that’s one nitpick among a sea of praises. If you haven’t seen Election, it’s available to rent on Amazon. Highly recommended!

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