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Most people remember high school. There was always a favorite teacher, one that cared, was helpful and was always there for you. There was also always a student nobody could stand. In public, everyone may tolerate this student, but actually, everybody hated him, or her. This student was the one that always had her hand up at every question, frantically shaking their hand like each response given would be able to save the world. ‘Election’ is a movie made of such memories. The film contains themes that are so universally relatable that the movie can endure through the years. The characters and circumstances that never go out of style. The bothersome student is in every class in every location and period. What ‘Election’ can do is tap into that commonality to create one of the best high school oriented dark comedies in the film. At first glance, you might think this is just another in a long line of teen comedies, but the comparison ends there. This is sharply written, extremely well acted and directed to perfection. It doesn’t rely on sophomoric humor but is filled with witty exchanges that demonstrate a level of craftsmanship that is all but unheard of in most teen fare. This allows the film to transcend the normal demographic restrictions and become something that everyone will find funny. The archetype characters may be best represented on the stage set by the high school, but there are people like that overachieving student at work just down the hall from you. In this country, we have just gone through one of the most protracted races for the white house ever. It has been said that people at that level will do anything to win. This movie shows that entire process in the microcosm of high school. Admittedly, it has been far too long since I last watched this film. Then I was presented with the perfect reason to do so; the film has been included in the loaded Criterion Collection. They have been known since the days of Laser Discs for presenting cinema’s best and most influential films available. as part of their dedication to preserving the director’s original vision. The technical specifications are as close as possible to achieve that goal. Each offering of the Collection includes a variety of additional content that goes beyond the typical extended scenes that usually amount to pasting together some scraps from the editing bay, With Criterion the supplemental content provides insight into the crafting if the film from academics and technical experts. Even if you already own the DVD release or the Paramount Blu-ray, this is worth the investment.

Matthew Broderick plays Mr. McAlliister, a civics teacher that is truly dedicated to his job. The students all like him, and he enjoys coming to school each day. The ever-present raised hand in this particular school belongs to Tracy Flick, wonderfully portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. Tracy is perfect, has everything going for her and will one day be very famous. If you doubt this, just ask her. The event that crystallizes the divisions of the ever-present high school strata is the election for school council president. At first, Tracy is running unopposed. Of course, this is seen by her as her God-given mandate. It turns out that Tracy had an affair with McAllister’s best friend, another teacher, and ruined his life while nothing about the mess stuck to Tracy.

In many respects, the movie was ahead of ahead of its time depicting a personality archetype that would be extremely comfortable in the current political climate. A student engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a teacher. At the time of revising this review every day brings headlines of sexual misconduct, abuse of authority and covering up the illegal and immoral actions. People obviously guilty are now able to escape any repercussions for such regrettable actions. The recent 2016 presidential was an example of heinous applications that would normally destroy the chances of a candidate making little if any impact. Tracy’s campaign increasingly focuses on personality assassination than pertinent issues.

McAllister talks Paul, an injured jock, to run against Tracy. Tracy is outraged at such an affront to her destiny to rule the school. Paul’s kid sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell) also decides to run for president to get back at her brother. It seems that Paul became involved with a girl she was interested in. His sister states that she is not gay; she falls in love with a person. It just happens that all the people she loves just happen to be girls. Tammy’s bid for the presidency also allows her to seek revenge against the girl in the middle of the conflict she has with her brother Lisa Flanagan (Jessica Campbell). Lisa is acting as Paul’s campaign manager. What a mess, high school at its petty, confused best. The plot is full of twists and some great moments. The story is a bit more complex than most movies of this genre, but that only adds to the enjoyment. None of the candidates enter the race for the proper reason, to serve their constituents. Lusting for power, revenge are the motivating factors behind these students supposedly concerned with school service. The humor is incredibly sharp with a necessary caveat, this is the epitome of dark comedy. This is certainly among the reasons why the film gas been selected for induction into the illustrious Criterion Collection.

The acting in this film is incredible. Broderick as the belabored teacher is so funny. This especially holds true for the many viewers that remember his battle against teachers in Ferris Buller. In this film, the tables have been turned, and it is Broderick’s character that has to represent the authority of a teacher. The comic timing of Broderick is polished and shows the years of movie and theatrical experience he has under his belt. Broderick has that every guy appeal that allows the audience to identify with him readily. Even though his character is prone to do things that no rational person would consider we accept it. Witherspoon once again demonstrates just how versatile an actress she is. She is as at home with comedy as she is with drama. The facial expressions she manages in this film show the bitter, controlling side of her character that is as vital to the plot and scene as the dialogue. The chemistry between these two talented actors carries the film.

The direction of such a film is not an easy task. Fortunately, Alexander Payne was up to the task. His previous successful movie was Citizen Ruth, a tale of an addict that becomes the center of the abortion controversy. Payne handles each scene with humor and flair. The complexity of the plot provides Payne with ample advantages to include in her plan. There is subtle humor as when McAllister realizes he must stop Tracy in her bid for the presidency. There is funny physical humor when a bee stings McAllister during the worst day of his life. Payne presents a believable and darkly humorous look at high school life, a time that all of us remember. Payne also wrote the script for this movie, and he was brilliant with this screenplay. The humor is at times subtle; able to sneak up on you. Then, in the blink of an eye, he switches gears to give you an outrageous physical comedy that can rival any slapstick routine around.

Back in 1999 when this film was first released in that new DVD format, it was great. The audio and video were exceptional even for the newly evolving standard. A few years latert the movie was remastered for high definition in the Blu-ray format.

I know a lot of people who question the repurchase of a film they already have on DVD in the Blu-ray format. Most will admit that the high-end blockbusters with face pace action and explosions galore show the worth of high definition video and audio. What a release like this reminds us is every film does better in this format. The 1080p video is incredibly crisp and clear with a color balance like you have never even imagined. There is not an artifact in sight; it looks as if you are right there with the characters. The audio is somewhat unusual for any home theater sound. It is presented here in True HD 5.0; there is no subwoofer channel in the audio mix. The lower range of the audio spectrum is divided throughout the other speakers in this case. With a film like this, it is nice to have a subwoofer but not entirely necessary; you will not miss it at all. Like the original DVD, the Blu-ray release contains a commentary track with Payne. It is witty and informative, and you will enjoy it as it gives some behind the scenes dirt on the production. The bottom line is to ‘Pick Flick’ and get this one to enjoy with your family.

bulletAudio Commentary from 2008 Featuring Payne
bulletNew Interview with Payne
bulletNew Interview with actor Reese Witherspoon
bulletThe Passion of Martin, Payne's 1991 UCLA Senior Thesis Film
bulletOmaha local-news reports on the film's Production
bulletPLUS: An essay by critic Dana Steven

Posted 01/23/09            11/22/2017

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