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Election [1999)

Life really sucks sometimes.

You try to do the right thing.

You try to do a good thing.

And you mess up somehow.

Films, then, are a great comfort when they can show us lives more fucked up than our own.

I must say early on:  this is a great film!

A great, great film!

Maybe I heard about it long ago.

In one ear and out the other.

And what brought me to visit this piece of cinema at this particular time?

That is a long, complex story which (mercifully) pales in comparison to the misadventures presented in Election.

Alexander Payne turned in a masterpiece here.

He had approximately the resources which a Nicholas Ray would have had.

And, presumably, the same pressures to somehow connect with teen audiences.

But make no mistake (as our woeful president is so wont to repeat):  Election is an extremely smart film.

Matthew Broderick is stellar as high school teacher Jim McAllister.

Reese Witherspoon is really damned good in this flick as well.

It’s a comedy, but there are tears.

There are a couple of actors who really bring this one home with their small roles.

Mark Harelik is essential to the story.

He plays a poor, pathetic bastard who’s hopelessly clueless.  I can relate.

Dave Novotny (Harelik) really sets things in motion.

Truth be told, all of the characters in this film make poor choices.

That’s what makes it real.

It’s hard to judge some of these people.  Any of these people.  All of them.

That’s what director Payne makes so masterfully clear.

What’s the difference between ethics and morals?

The first to answer might have the least idea.

Election is very much a film about America.

Payne uses a trite camera trick to express something truly sublime.

Dolly up.  Way up.  Crane shot.  God perspective.  Hearing the selfish prayers of a motley bunch.

Most lovable is Jessica Campbell.  She is the lesbian rebel whose short-lived student government campaign parallels that of Monty Brewster’s “None of the Above” run in Brewster’s Millions (1985).

Campbell’s character Tammy has a soul.  She is the gem of this picture.

But we see so much true soul from Matthew Broderick as well (and true acting talent).

In case you were wondering, only Chris Klein’s prayer rings true.  It’s hilarious.  But it has heart.

Klein’s initial campaign speech is a coup of non-acting.  Frankly brilliant!

And, as I intimated earlier, even Witherspoon has soul.

Her character might be ostensibly soulless, but it’s there.

Sitting on the school bus.  And crying before a Valium and milk.

Ms. Witherspoon is brilliant as the villain.

But she’s only the villain because the story is told from the perspective of Broderick’s character (more or less).

The narrative voiceover must have really been en vogue in 1999 (the same year as the whisper-happy American Beauty).

And though these films be seemingly ignorant of the master of the medium (whisper king Jean-Luc Godard), they are still cinema.

I would venture to guess that Election is the better of the two films (or at least the one most able to handle the scrutiny of accolades).

Which is to say, Election might not be a terribly well-known film, but it deserves to be widely seen and appreciated.

 

-PD

8 responses to “Election [1999)

  1. historymonocle ⋅

    I might have seen this film. It sounds really familiar. It’s funny because I watched numerous films from 1989-1995 in theatres. At home, I watched a bunch of kid movies, like Flight of the Navigator, from the 80s. I also watched most of 1930-1950 American films shown on AMC or TCM through the 1990s. I probably average seeing one new movie a year. And I figure that I’ve probably only seen 15-25 movies made after 1995. I’ve watched only a few made between 1960-1989. I’ve probably watched more 1920 movies than any other decade besides 1930-1950; 1980-1990. My foreign film (as in non-English language) range is terrible. Mostly because I used to never wear glasses and couldn’t read the subtitles. I generally would fall asleep. Now that I have glasses, I don’t really mind reading subtitles. However, the odd thing about me, was that I could sit still when I was a kid, but I can’t as an adult, unless I’m reading or physically doing something, like writing, playing video games, playing chess. In movies, I multitask, which isn’t the best way of observing them. However, if a movie is really good, it pulls me away from hyperactivity. Huckleberry Hobratsch.

  2. Paul S ⋅

    Election is even funnier and more caustic when watched drunk in the middle of the night. Broderick is pitch perfect, especially in the final scene.
    As usual great review and comment to match!

  3. I love this movie! At first I really disliked Reese’s character, but then I could relate to the frustration of being a hard worker and wanting to get ahead, hehe.

  4. Excellent review again , Paul , I really like your synopsis of the Film and with Broderick and Witherspoon in it should make a good Film , although I have never seen it after your scintillating Review I will have to get a copy , again thanks for another eye opener Laurence

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