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Election (1999) March 15, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

State of Croatian cinema theatre business is so bad that anything other than major Hollywood blockbuster and “Oscar” nominees have very little chance of appearing in cinema distribution. One of the victims of this phenomenon was ELECTION, 1999 comedy by Alexander Payne. It was not deemed successful enough by Croatian distributors, so they decided not to put in theatres. Few months later, their decision proved to be blessing in disguise. When the film appeared in video stores in the beginning of 2000, it received extra publicity due to Croatian public being obsessed with the events corresponding with its subject matter. Few months later, thanks to ELECTION, Croatian public was also prepared for its real-life remake in USA.

Based on the novel by Tom Perotta, the plot of ELECTION is set in Carver High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Tracy Enid Flick (played by Reese Witherspoon) might not be the best student in the school, but her zeal and immense energy invested in various extra-curricular activities made her absolute favourite in the upcoming race for the president of students’ governing body. While everyone else sees the election as mere formality, history teacher Jim McAllister (played by Matthew Broderick) is less enthusiastic, mostly because he considers Tracy to be responsible for the downfall of his colleague and best friend with whom she had brief affair. Using the ideals he preaches in his classroom as an excuse, he talks Paul Metzler (played by Chris Klein), not very bright but popular jock, into running against Tracy. His plan is threatened when Paul’s lesbian sister Tammy (played by Jessica Campbell), angry over him stealing her girlfriend Lisa (played by Frankie Ingrassia), decides to join the race as protest candidate. As election approaches, everyone begins losing scruples in attempts to defeat their rivals.

CITIZEN RUTH, Alexander Payne’s previous film, wasn’t great piece of cinema but it was extraordinary achievement for one simple reason – it managed to tackle a controversial and emotionally charged subject with surprising amount of objectivity. Payne continues with this approach in ELECTION. This films lacks conventional division of characters into heroes and villains. The plot is told from the perspectives of four protagonists, which makes each of them not only complex and multi-dimensional, but also adds to the film’s satirical edge. Regardless of how pathetic and dislikeable each of those characters might be, at least someone in the audience will always be able to find few redeeming qualities in them. All this could be also attributed to very good cast. The most memorable of all the actors is Reese Witherspoon who perfectly conveys what amounts to be one the most impressive characters in 1990s Hollywood films. She easily overshadows Broderick, despite his character being more complex.

ELECTION is very good film, but it is not going to be viewed as undisputed classic. Some of McAllister character’s subplots aren’t handled very well. At first, it seemed that the same thing could be said about character of Tammy – her lesbianism was somewhat too “hip” and too convenient for this MTV-promoted film. She looked like unnecessary distraction from the film’s satirical essence. Then, after a year, her character and what she had stood for suddenly received real-life relevance when certain political contest began to unfold in a way not so dissimilar to the plot of this film. The drama that unfolded in 2000 gave ELECTION gave additional dimension and those who watch this film now are going to experience it as a more powerful socio-political commentary than the audiences in 1999.

ELECTION, even when looked outside contemporary political context, should be also be praised as one surprisingly funny and effective comedy.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)



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