Plot: At a small school in Omaha, Nebraska, an election is about to be held to find the next student body president. The lone candidate is Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the school’s resident overachiever who studies hard, participates in all the extracurricular activities, and has a perky, over the top persona, so her ambition shines through at a sometimes intimidating level. She might be the only name on the ballot, but she runs a strategic campaign nonetheless and in the process, her perkiness starts to wear on Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick). His annoyance with Flick is fueled by her driven, always win mentality, his knowledge that she had an affair with a former teacher, and his own life, which is falling apart around him. McAllister soon encourages some competition in the election, which escalates his rivalry with Flick and unleashes a social revolt at the school, all while his personal life continues to spiral out of control and he seems helpless to get things under control.
Entertainment Value: A dark comedy that skewers the real life election process, Election is also a brutal look at high school social dynamics and is loaded with desperation and troubled characters. The movie is able to have the texture of most high school comedies, but the material is much darker and less merciful, so don’t expect a light hearted, feel good ride here. The premise is a wild one at times, but also feels rooted in believable touches and in the years since Election was released, we’ve seen high school stories that rival this one in outlandishness. So the saga of Tracy Flick is dialed up of course, but there’s also a grounded feel, even as the characters unravel in hilarious fashion. The narrative is dark and and follows a depressing downward spiral, but also has a hilarious, sometimes brutal sense of humor. A few stretches are a little drawn out, but overall I think the pace is good and never outright drags. I can see the awkward slant the movie takes being a little off putting perhaps, but I always have fun with Election, so it is highly recommended.
This movie boasts one of the best performances from Reese Witherspoon’s career, which is not small praise for her work here. Her performance is nearly flawless as Tracy Flick, a role that feels so natural and authentic, down to the smallest mannerisms and reaction shots. That sense of extreme perkiness painted over this dark, ambitious heart is brought across so well by Witherspoon, it is a cinematic masterwork. She can work wonders just by herself on screen, but she really shines in her interactions with her costars, Matthew Broderick in particular. I love her work in Election and to me, it stands as the high point of her thespian endeavors. Broderick is also quite good as the desperate McAllister and again, makes small moments convey so much, such as the steady decline of his personal care over the course of the movie. He keeps the performance reeled in just enough, always on the brink of a total meltdown, but somehow able to take that one step back, then continue toward an incremental disaster. The cast also includes Chris Klein, Colleen Camp, and Jessica Campbell.