Directed By Alexander Payne
By: Eric G.
Election is the funniest black comedy since Rushmore- and that’s saying a lot. Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, an obsessive yet surface only do-gooder with a black heart who runs for Student Council President in a completely maudlin and podunk Midwestern high school. She thinks she’s got the election in the bag until one of her teachers, haunted by the ennui of his personal life, decides to project all of his frustration and anger onto her annoyingly perky campaign. Matthew Broderick plays the frumpy teacher, Mr. McCallister, and forever shatters his Ferris Bueller image. Director Alexander Payne uses a simple high school election as a microcosmic view of the power of corruption in American politics while he mocks and satirizes the loneliness and self-hatred of seemingly normal people. Payne knows his Midwestern brethren well, and he gleefully chips away at the candy-coated surface to reveal disturbingly sad, empty people.
The film takes you behind the eyes of four very different characters, making voice-over narration play a major part in the film’s comedic attack. Mr. McCallister is at first just annoyed by Tracy’s perfectionistic drive, but that soon blossoms into a deep obsession to take her down by any means necessary. His loathing is also coupled with a twisted hint of lust that he fights because it got the better of one of his peers the year before, whose wife, ironically enough, McCallister seduces in a desperately sad chain of events. Tracy senses all of this, of course, and flaunts her confidence and smarm in his face. Payne reveals these characters’ innermost thoughts and intimate details even down to their prayers at night before bed, making for some of the films most sickeningly funny moments.
Election is one of those films that is even funnier in retrospect than it is while you’re watching it. Every time I think about certain scenes I laugh out loud. Payne is a cynical satirist. His characters all spin out of control, but the film remains very tight and consistently funny. The previews don’t really hint as to how dark this film is. Both Witherspoon and Broderick seem deviantly possessed in their respective pursuits for happiness however sick and dysfunctional they may be. Election will nip at the heels of Rushmore for best comedy this year.