A presidential race between a popular yet unqualified male against a more driven and overqualified female?
Hmmm..sounds a lot like the 2016 Presidential race. However, it also sounds like the plot of the 1999 satire Election starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.
Election involves a race for student body president at a Nebraska high school between the overachieving Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) and football quarterback Paul Metzler (Chris Klein). Flick initially ran unopposed until history teacher Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) convinced Paul to run in spite of Paul not having the greatest intelligence nor the right qualifications. Because Mr. McAllister has a strong vendetta against Tracy, he is planning to do everything in his power to prevent Tracy from winning. But things get even more complicated once Paul’s younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) decides to shake up the race by competing as well.
With Tammy’s apathy about the whole election race and how she encouraged students to not cast their vote at all, that could also be a parallel to the 2016 election as well since there was a low voting turnout. Of course, writer/director Alexander Payne couldn’t have predicted that the 2016 race would end up between Clinton and Trump with voters feeling apathy and with third party candidate Jill Stein adding to the dilemma of who would be elected President on November 8th, 2016.
But aside from its eerie timeliness, Election is also a well-acted satire that fiercely demonstrates the shadiness and competitive nature of political races. Most of its humor stems from the expositional yet ironic dialogue in the Oscar-nominated screenplay by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. For example, when it’s revealed early on that Tracy caused Mr. McAllister to dislike her because she had an affair with a fellow teacher of his and inadvertently broke up the teacher’s marriage, Tracy narrates her side of the story, saying how she didn’t have an affair with him because she was psychologically looking for a father figure. Yet, she still said that she loved how he was so strong and made her feel safe and protected.
Of course, the film also works thanks to its great performances. Particularly, Reese Witherspoon who is iconic as Tracy Flick. We’ve all seen our fair share of Tracy Flicks in high school. The kind of student who will seize every opportunity to raise their hand in class or join every after school club and so on. Well, Witherspoon perfectly embodies that kind of overachiever and gives Tracy shades of grey. Tracy is someone who will get her hands dirty to emerge on top yet is still a typical high school student who has dreams too big for her small town. Matching her tit for tat is Matthew Broderick as Mr. McAllister, a beloved teacher who slowly goes against the “ethics and morals” that he tries to teach his students. Chris Klein also impresses as the dumb but likeable jock Paul along with Jessica Campbell as Tammy. But it’s Reese Witherspoon who’s the real star of the show and who seriously deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
She is the anchor of what is a rather unsung yet razor sharp and humorous portrait of political races. The fact that it is a film that it is about a race for student body president in high school and is not far off from the race to the White House proves how ruthless politics can become. Because of its timelessness and its eerie timeliness, Election is an essential classic. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check it out. If you’re unsure what to pick on your movie night, Pick Flick!!!