Rated R - Running time: 1:43 - Released 5/7/99

It's been 13 years since we've seen Matthew Broderick in a high school setting, and his age has dictated a radical change in character. In Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), he was an impertinent student seeing how far he could bend the rules. In Alexander Payne's Election, the latest from the irreverent MTV production company, he is just the opposite: a middle-aged, unassuming history teacher. But he's still seeing how far he can bend the rules, and this time they don't bend so far.

Election is fun and funny, but a bit rude at times. Broderick, as Jim McAllister, is pathetically likeable; he's not a bad guy, but a few mistakes snowball to an alarming point. Opposite him is Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville), playing an insufferabe goody-two-shoes student running for class president. Witherspoon is well-cast as Tracy Flick; she embodies the high school persona from her fresh face and perky demeanor to her juvenile-looking figure. Tracy is the model of studious integrity, always ready with the correct answer, and no one expects her to lose the election since she is running unopposed. But when a star football player named Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) is injured and loses his chances to play at the state finals, Jim convinces him to run for office, partly to restore Paul's reason for living, and partly to give Tracy some competition.

Paul is such a good-natured guy that he wishes Tracy all the luck in the world and still expects her to win, but then a wild card is thrown into the mix: Paul's lesbian sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) decides to run too. She is only a sophomore and has no desire to be president, but merely does it to confound the efforts of her former lover Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia), who has turned straight and joined up with Paul as his girlfriend and campaign manager. So now it's a three-way race between the smartest girl in school, the most popular guy in school, and a sophomore whose platform of "Who cares?" wins her growing support from the mostly indifferent student body. But then Jim makes an error that will haunt him forever. And then he makes another one.

The acting in this film is truly good; Witherspoon, Klein, and Campbell perform the parts of high school students with unrelenting realism and unfaltering humor. Broderick's Jim is confused by his impulses and driven by a growing sense of personal frustration. Adding to his disheveled state is an untimely bee sting on the eye, which makes him resemble Rocky Balboa just before he says, "Cut me." Payne's script is very clever (though somewhat misogynistic), incorporating voiceovers by the principal cast members to show their own various views of the events. And Matt Malloy deserves special notice for his portrayal of Ron Bell, the quintessential vice principal. Whether you're a student or a teacher, or if you've ever been either, Election will definitely bring back some memories of high school days. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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