A biting satire if the bite belonged to jaws.
Perfect straight A’s, the leader of every club and society, teacher’s pet, ambitions firmly set on presidency – everyone has or had their own Tracy Flick buzzing around their school halls. Her constant multitasking, pep and façade of perfection is enough to either inspire admiration, jealousy, hatred or if you are Mr M then possibly all three in equal measure. Election despite being only Alexander Payne’s then second film, still presented all the hallmarks of his comic genius; subversive, dark, cutting and most importantly V-ery funny. His film unapologetically plies the lid off Middle America and suburban living and then drops in that one absurd character; who like a gust of wind to a domino set or a house of cards, inspires a chain reaction that descends everything into complete chaos and trust me Election is pure chaos (In a good way!).
Take a few pictures, shake a few hands and make the occasional speech: to most people in high school, the role of student school president is a meaningless title that serves only as a sentence on a college application for the winner. While for the rest of the population, it is pure torment forcing them to put up with irritating posters, cliché catch phrases and “vote for me’s” ringing in their ears every five seconds during the campaign process. But to someone like Tracy Flick (Reece Weatherspoon) – the cheery do-gooding teacher’s pet, it is the highlight of her entire school experience. So forget prom and homecoming because today its president of the school and tomorrow its president of America! However one problem, although he tries to hide it under his ‘coolest teacher in school’ title, Mr M (Mathew Broderick) despises Tracy and would do anything in his power to stop her from school and world domination, even if it means using calculation, cunning and of course cheating.
Why does Mr M dislike Tracy so much? The easy answer would be because Tracy’s affair with her teacher cost the job of Mr M’s best-friend and work colleague. However the truth is Tracy represents all the passion, ambition and excitement deeply lacking in Mr M’s life. But mostly because Tracy is merely the tip of the iceberg of true problem – the kids come through the doors and then leave to go on to bigger and better things, while Mr M stays in the same old classroom, the same old town and the same old marriage.
Just like The Descendants restores the acting credibility of George Clooney in my eyes, Election did so for Mathew Broderick who I felt greatly lost his way since Ferris Bueller’s day off. In Election while his character Mr M’s actions are constantly morally, professionally and ethically questionable, somehow you can’t help but love him because you feel he wants to do right, but often finds his actions and intentions slightly misguided. Speaking of Ferris Bueller, Broderick employs the same understated, effortless humour that instantly uplifts every the scene and leaves you on the floor in a fit of laughter!
I love the fact that Alexander Payne frequently uses his home state of Nebraska nearly all his films. For me it makes the stories far more impactful because I know that the Payne brought a piece of his heart and past to the stories and characters on screen. This warm affinity for his work certainly shows more than ever in Election because he weaves a strong vein of familiarity and intimacy throughout the film. Enriching the characters with deeper layers, resonance and making me feel that the featured locations could’ve been a snapshot straight out of his memoires.
As much as I adore the likes of Sideways and The Descendants, Election still stands as the apple of my eye when it comes to the fantastic work of Alexander Payne. While the others deal with more complex and adult orientated issues, Election approaches a subject that transcends all ages and uses broad accessible humour to bridge the gap between our world and the chaos of Election.