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The Campaign Goes to High School.

It's eerie to watch Election during a Presidential race. This movie, which came out last spring and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation, was one of the few decent kid flicks that didn't attract a large audience. We were bombarded with goofy and dopey movies about high school high jinks such as American Pie and condescending, tawdry yawn-a-thons such as Varsity Blues, Never Been Kissed, or worse, Cruel Intentions.

But Election actually has something to say. It does to our political sensibilities what American Beauty does to our suburban ones.

Based on the Tom Perrotta novel by the same name, Election is set during the student government race at George Washington Carver High, ironically an all-white school in Omaha, Nebraska. Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, an eager, smiling, Machiavellian shrew, who is ready to take her first step toward higher political aspirations by running for student body president. Much like running for the local tax assessment board or mayor of Baghdad, Tracy is unopposed.

Enter Jim McAllister, civics teacher, multiple Teacher-of-the-Year winner, and all around good guy. Mr. M, as the kids call him, is the meatiest role Matthew Broderick has had in years. We settle into McAllister as he's settled into a mundane existence with his wife. He hates Flick for her goody-two-shoes demeanor that flies in the face of her affair with a teacher who was McAllister's best friend.

It is McAllister's life of quiet desperation set against Flicks rising star that causes McAllister to manipulate hapless oaf Paul (Chris Klein), an injured football hero, into running against Flick. The popular jock seems the perfect tool to bring down the Antichrist before she makes it out of her senior year and on to Washington.

But then Tammy (Jessica Campbell), Paul's lesbian sister, joins the race. She wants to get back at her brother and his current girlfriend, who is her ex. It sounds so TV, but Tammy turns out to be the only person in the race who really has a plan that's worth considering: If elected, she vows to destroy student government, which would be a brilliant act of anarchy. Tammy gets suspended, the kids realize Paul's an idiot, and after stumbling a bit, Flick is back in the game.

Alexander Payne, the film's director, has produced a true work of art that is worth more consideration as a genre-breaker. In his review for Cineaste magazine, Thomas Doherty writes that Election is an "allegorical satire of American politics [that] makes for an open-book test of connect the dots: corruption, sex, dirty tricks, media manipulation, voter fraud--just like the grownups."

The film's three candidates and the motives of the people behind them are no worse than what the political parties have thrown at us over the last year. A lesser film would have been far too over the top (a little murder, a little revolution), or would have subjected the viewer to a fairy-tale ending of shared power for the greater good of the school. But Election doesn't take the easy way out. And it moves beyond the hackneyed subject of high school angst to explore the fear of political operatives, the morass of government, and the cynicism of the public. More than a good rental, it deserves all the accolades and as much cult status as it can grab.


* So Macy Gray lost the Best New Artist Grammy to Christina Aguilera. In her excitement and surprise, Aguilera didn't have a prepared statement to read on national TV. This is due, in part, because no one--including Aguilera--thought she had a chance in hell to win. OK, this is the same organization that gave the nod to Milli Vanilli, only to look sheepish when it came out that these knuckleheads didn't sing on their own album. And need I remind anyone that the Starland Vocal Band, which gave us "Afternoon Delight," won the Best New Artist award in 1976?

Fred McKissack is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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Author:McKissack, Fred
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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