Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #389: Election


Alexander Payne’s 1999 comedy “Election” tells the story of three candidates competing for the office of president. One is a young woman with a giant ego who believes it is her destiny to join the ranks of great politicians. The second is a naïve but well-meaning man who was persuaded to run just to stop the first candidate. The third candidate is running as a joke to denounce the electoral process. All of these potential candidates could be real-life politicians, except for the fact they are running for office at a high school in Omaha, Nebraska.

When I first saw the movie playing on TV in 2000 I didn’t really care about elections, high school or otherwise. I was studying in a high school in Peru, but couldn’t care less about who was high school president. As far as political elections, I was living in one of the most corrupt countries on Earth, and I had just witnessed the American charade of Bush vs. Gore. Yet today, after having voted a few times for both Canadian provincial and federal elections, after having seen the circus of the 2008 American elections, and after having seen countless hours of “The Daily Show,” I find elections fascinating. George Carlin once claimed elections are a charade, but if that’s true, it’s one of the funniest versions of the game.

The frontrunner in “Election” is Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), an overachieving senior who aims to be the next Hillary Clinton. On paper she seems like the perfect student: she works hard, is ambitious, and actually cares about the issues. But her teacher Jim McCallister (Mathew Broderick) knows there is something beneath the surface. Tracy had an affair with McCallister’s best friend Dave, who was fired and divorced by his wife Linda (Delaney Driscoll). Tracy on the other hand, still walks the school halls unscathed.

Shuddering at the thought of what she could do next, McCallister believes it is his duty to stop Tracy in her tracks. He convinces popular football player Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her. Paul is unable to play football due to a leg injury, so Jim’s proposal gives him a new goal for the school year. It isn’t as though he has to work hard to achieve that goal: immensely popular with his fellow students, Paul barely has to promise anything during his speech in order to get applause.

The third candidate runs not out of conviction but out of spite. Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is a closeted lesbian who is angered to see her first love Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia) leave her for Paul. In retaliation she aims to stop her brother’s election and possibly dismantle the entire student body government if she is ever elected. The second part of the plan actually gets a lot of support from her fellow students. For McCallister, all that matters is that Tracy never gets any more power.

The role of McCallister is a good one for Broderick. He does not have the face of a villain, and when he explains his motives to the audience he makes himself sound like the hero of the story. Yet as events unfold, it becomes increasingly difficult to see him in that light. For one thing, even if Dave was his best friend, McCallister has no qualms about going after Dave’s ex-wife Linda (Delaney Driscoll) even if he is himself married. Then on the day of the big election, when it all comes down to two votes, McCallister decides to toss away the votes in order to elect the candidate he wants.

There you have it. A female candidate, an airhead who is only running because someone told him it was a good idea, a candidate who wants to dismantle the government, and voter fraud. Yes, “Election” is set in a high school, but age these candidates by twenty years and they could be running for the real thing.

It makes me wonder whom I would vote for out of this lot. Tracy is so qualified she could probably run the town, let alone the school. On the other hand, Paul is such a decent guy that once in the ballot booth he decides he cannot vote for himself. Then again Tammy’s plan of dismantling the government might not have been such a bad idea. It is a rather extreme version of Ron Paul’s ideas of small government.

How about I do what most people do? Flip a coin.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …