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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Election fever

 
 

Student body elections can bring out the worse in people. Lying, cheating and stealing are all stepping-stones to a successful campaign, as shown in director Alexander Payne’s first mainstream success, “Election.”
Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon star in this smart satire of governmental campaigning and high school politics. Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta, “Election” artfully captures the dark underbelly of high school drama that lies beneath the innocent eyes of youth.
Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) has been teaching history at Carver High School for most of his adult life. He has settled for a life of mediocrity, living vicariously through the dreams and aspirations of his students. It is this need for vicarious drama that entangles him in the political warpath that Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) has set out on.
Tracy, an ambitious student with dreams of presidential power, is determined to be Carver’s newest student body president. Something about Tracy rubs Jim the wrong way. Maybe it’s her bossy, unctuous personality. Or it could be the fact that Jim’s best friend, a fellow teacher, has had his life ruined after having an affair with young Tracy. For whatever reason, Jim sees all his forgotten personal potential personified through Tracy’s upward flight. Desperate to see Tracy not have her final victory, Jim enlists the help of Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a stereotypical, bighearted, dumb jock to run against Tracy in the student body presidential election.
In recent years, Payne has become the go-to-guy for directing quality, character-based films. “Election” took a handful of endearing actors and created some truly memorable characters whose intersecting dreams and ambitions sent them spiraling into each other’s lives.
Broderick has never been better as McAllister. Perfectly channeling the memories of high school teachers’ past, Broderick creates a complex picture of ambiguous morality. He truly cares about his students’ lives but is also willing to destroy the ambitions of one overly eager beaver. He denounces his friend for cheating on his wife with a student, but finds himself desperately pining for the excitement of an extramarital affair. McAllister begs for audiences’ sympathies, but does nothing to earn them.
Reese Witherspoon found herself returning to high school for “Election.” Despite being in her early 20s at the time of filming, Witherspoon managed to capture all the insecurities and self-importance that alternatively swims through high school students’ heads. Her desperate striving to win an election for what is basically a figurehead position is a stark reminder of other, real life student leaders.
It’s all too easy to blame the moral lows Tracy dives to on her mother’s extreme pressuring. Instead, Payne and Witherspoon created a character who walks the line between self-righteousness and humble servitude – qualities present in all political leaders.
“Election” was perhaps ahead of its time. Satirical writing and black comedy prevented it from becoming a runaway teen box office smash. It did, however, help it achieve cult film status that few films reach.

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