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It really seems to annoy me when a movie is incorrectly marketed during pre-release. In Election’s case, it was undoubtedly for the worse. I have to admit, when I first heard about this 1999 MTV movie, I didn’t have a firm objective to see it. After all, it did star two of Hollywood’s most notorious teenage sweethearts, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Klein, and not to mention Mr. Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, who was playing the adult in this movie. However, upon release audiences and critics were praising this little movie that proved itself to be nothing short of a miracle. Surprisingly, Election didn’t offer one of those generic teen movie plots, but alternatively offered a complex chain of events that ruptured from a simple event: A high school presidency election.


The highly praised film went on to earn the talented screenwriting duo Alexander Payne (also the film’s director) and Jim Taylor an Academy Award nomination (yes, that’s right, an Academy Award nomination) on top of a smorgasbord of other triumphant feats that included wins and nominations from respected ceremonies such as the Independent Spirit Awards, The Golden Globe Awards and The Golden Satellite Awards, just to name a few.

Evidently, Election won the votes from a variety of associations and audiences, which proved to be a major surprise. From what was once perceived as a “teen” flick now came an Oscar nominated delight that earned director Alexander Payne and the talented youth of the film some highly deserved recognition.

Tracy Flick is the only candidate running for the annual presidency election of George Washington Carver High School. Determined, prepared and diligent, Tracy has a firm feeling that her chances of glory are on the cards. That is, until her respected civics teacher, Mr. Jim McAllister, decides to “interfere with destiny”. McAllister feels that Tracy is in need of some strong competition; after all, she is that irritating know-it-all that tries to take over the classroom and she did have a secret affair with his best friend and colleague, Dave, that immediately lead to his dismissal.

Through Mr. McAllister’s unforgivable interference, Tracy soon faces some fierce rivalry. Carver High’s popular and gentle jock, Paul Metzler (Chris Klien), becomes Tracy’s challenger and he has the potential to generate some unexpected insecurity on her behalf. When absolutely nothing else could endanger Tracy’s campaign, a subsequent issue of domestic jealously steps right in to make for even more trouble. Paul’s misfit sister (in a current state of jealous rage), Tammy (Jessica Campbell), assumes that by running for presidency she can seek revenge on her brother for “stealing” her girlfriend. With three very different candidates and one resolute coordinating teacher, some anticipated chaos is on its way…

Whilst glancing over the plot synopsis, one may ask what is so original and praiseworthy of what seems like such a simplistic and collective story. Upon watching the movie, audiences can see that this is purely intentional. The onscreen action isn’t limited to Carver High School, but is extended to the homes of the story’s four main subjects. The title of the film, Election, doesn’t just make reference to a High School Student Council Campaign. The witty screenplay and Payne’s clever direction explore politics on a broader band, questioning such social issues as anarchy, homosexuality, rage, adultery, status and domestic operation whist simultaneously linking them to a high school election. The entire concept works marvelously, treating audiences to a highly entertaining experience that is sure to leave one chuckling at the dark and subtle satire.


The cast is no less than terrific. Tragically, we lost all respect for Matthew Broderick when he decided to become Inspector Gadget and save the world from Godzilla. As hard as this may be to forgive, his fireball performance as the troubled Jim McAllister in Election grants him redemption. Golden Globe nominated Witherspoon proves her talent in her memorable role as the ambitious Tracy Flick, who is a sheer delight to watch opposite Broderick. It is unfortunate, however, that we haven’t seen much of newcomer Jessica Campbell since, who delivered a substantial part of the film’s worth in her performance as the emotionally interrupted Tammy Metzler.

Most comedies these days are presented in the usual 1.85:1 aspect ratio, primarily because there isn’t a need to show off elegant production design or defined landscape. Election is one to break the rules. The film is presented quite nicely in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (that is 16:9 enhanced), clearly demonstrating the loneliness of a quiet and isolated town and its surrounding atmosphere. The wider presentation definitely enhances this concept to the best of its ability and does so quite effectively.

Once again, Paramount have treated us with a clear and radiant transfer that isn’t interrupted by constant grain or shadow. Throughout the entire film, this strong transfer remains lucid and shines with brilliance. Expectedly, scenes occurring in the evening or in a darker atmosphere suffer a tad more than those in the brighter moments of the film, but there’s definitely not enough interference to cause the slightest bit of concern.

Accompanying such a brilliant film and radiant transfer is a substantial Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As one would expect, most of the sound is received through the left, right and center speakers without too much support from the rear speakers, which is understandable simply because it isn’t really that necessary. Given the occasional scenes that require some surround sound assistance, the rear speakers aren’t used to their full potential, but there is still just enough enhancement to give the intended effect. Crisp and clear sound is persistent throughout the whole presentation and at no time is the dialogue interrupted with a dominating music score (though the soundtrack is still quite appropriate) or irritating background noise.


Like many other DVD obsessives out there, I find that I am quite greedy when it comes to extras. This is probably why I was so disappointed to find that the only extra feature included on the Election DVD was an audio commentary with the film’s director, Alexander Payne. Payne impressively guides us through the film step-by-step, briefing viewers on the technicality of the film as well as the production process itself. I am pleased to say that Payne doesn’t break the important rules of an audio commentary session in which a participant will lose track of the commentary’s intended purpose and just give an awfully bland plot narration. The scattered bits of trivia he offers throughout the commentary are generally interesting and his constant reference to his screenplay adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel is quite complementary. We are made aware in this commentary session that there were several cuts made to the film that did not make the final edit. It’s just too bad they weren’t donated to a DVD in such need of more extras…Even a trailer would have been a nice gesture.

To put it quite simply, Election screams. The arresting performances delivered by a by such a talented and clever cast contrasts brilliantly with the film’s witty story and eccentric screenplay. Alexander Payne has deconstructed the usual cliches associated with teenage angst and has pieced together a quirky puzzle that demonstrates the nature of teenage and adult life encumbered by politics. Along with a nice visual presentation and substantial audio to support, Election is a must in any film buff’s growing collection, despite the lack of extra goodies. A definite winner.