Election DVD

Even though director Alexander Payne’s “Election” is set in modern times, it struck such a familiar cord with me that I couldn’t help being transported back to my high school days. Darkly comic and scathingly funny, “Election” manages to nail the proverbial high school experience on the head.


electionLike high school itself, sometimes it hurts. Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor (based on the 1998 novel by Tom Perrotta) touch on all of the bases of high school life, and in doing so, come up with a film that deftly blends heroics and heartache. On hand are all of the cliques, from the career driven student who just has to win the student body presidency, to the popular yet less bright jock who finds more promise in a kegger than in a classroom.

I’ve been out of high school for 20 plus years, and yet all of the characters in “Election” talked and acted like people I went to school with. We had a popular drama and film teacher at Hueneme High School named Mr. Penhallow. His connection with students was so strong that we were allowed to call him Mr. P. He was one of those teachers who knowledge and concern went beyond the call of duty. We also had a student named Sandy who just had to be part of everything. Her name was always on a ballot, and she made a point to be involved in just about every aspect of school life. I liked Sandy a lot, and you couldn’t deny her determination.

The spirit of Mr. P and Sandy live on in “Election,” which takes these characters to the extreme. Matthew Broderick, once and always “Ferris Bueller,” finds himself on the other side of the teacher’s desk as Jim McAllister, one of the most popular teachers at Carver High School. Three time recipient of the “Teacher of the Year” award, McAllister seems to have the perfect life: a good wife, students who adore him, the respect of the community.

Through a series of quick flashbacks we watch as McAllister (Mr. M to his students) endears himself to both the student body and the faculty. Leave it to his best friend, fellow teacher Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik), to put a tailspin on his life when he confesses to having an affair with a student. Not just any student, but Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the by-product of an overly ambitious mother who wants nothing more than for her daughter to be the best she can be.

When Tracy’s mother learns of the affair, Novotny is fired from his job, loses his wife and child, and is forced to leave town. Even though McAllister understands the predicament, he partially blames Tracy for his friend’s downfall. Her popularity would bottom out if the student body knew of her affair, but as a gentleman and a teacher, he keeps the damaging evidence to himself. When Tracy decides to run for student body president unopposed, McAllister decides to get even with Tracy by recruiting popular football star Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her. Sidelined with a broken leg from a ski accident, Paul is at first hesitant to accept the challenge, but thanks to a few encouraging words from McAllister, he rises to the challenge.

From Tracy’s reaction to the news you would think that McAllister declared war on her, and indeed he has. Throwing a monkey wrench into the plan is Paul’s younger, adopted sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), an outcast at school whose lesbian tendencies have just cost her the loss of best friend Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia). Making matters worse, Lisa tags up with Paul to run his campaign and provide sexual release when needed. It doesn’t take long before Carver High starts looking like a political convention, and then a battlefield as Tracy does everything within her power to win the election. “Election” is one of those rare films that manages to paint on a large canvas without losing the intimacy of the characters.

Broderick is outstanding as McAllister, a man willing to put everything on the line in order to make his point. With just a touch of gray lining his temples, Broderick still has that boyish look, but it serves him well here. He looks like a former student who came back to teach at the same school. I just adore Reese Witherspoon, who not only can act circles around Alicia Silverstone, but is also much prettier. She’s delightful as Tracy Flick, who thinks nothing of spending every waking hour making personalized cupcakes to hand out before the election, or ripping down her opponents posters in an act of rage. Chris Klein makes a splendid debut as Paul, who is so earnest that he actually wishes Tracy luck before the big day.

Likewise, Jessica Campbell as his sister Tammy is a real discovery. Her character goes through the most changes in the film, and she rises to the occasion. Mark Harelik as former teacher Novotny has the best scene in the film as he is confronted by the principal about his affair with Tracy. When he breaks down and proclaims “But we’re in love,” I almost fell on the floor. There’s a lot of risky material in “Election,” yet Payne never exploits it. Instead, he embraces the fringe elements of high school life. Payne is no stranger to this territory, as his debut film, “Citizen Ruth,” was a very funny comedy about mom, apple pie and abortion.

He sets the right tone from the first frame, and uses such cinematic devices as voice overs, flashbacks and still frames to his advantage. There isn’t a bad performance in the film, which also boasts excellent production values. Rolfe Kent’s musical score is extremely playful, utilizing numerous musical styles to make his point. The best is a Zulu scream that fills Tracy’s head every time she feels threatened. James Glennon’s photography keeps the film grounded with its honest look, while Kevin Tent’s editing is a major plus. How delightful to experience a high school film that doesn’t pander to a high school mentality. Sharply written and directed, “Election” might offend some with its portrayal of America’s youth. Those of us who actually experienced high school rather than just attended it will find plenty to laugh about.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.35:1 widescreen

check.gif (406 bytes) Anamorphic Enhanced

check.gif (406 bytes) Strong, penetrating colors are true and vivid. Flesh tones are bright and cheery, while blacks are strong and dependable. No obvious compression artifacts. Good depth of field and attention to detail. Nice presentation.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround soundtracks.

check.gif (406 bytes) Excellent presentation on both tracks. 5.1 features strong stereo separation, including impressive front to rear spatial separation. Surround effects include perky music cues and directional dialogue. Basses are adequate while high and middle ends purr. No audible hiss or distortion.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Bright, cheerful main and scene access menus.

check.gif (406 bytes) A chatty conversation with director Alexander Payne on an alternate audio track. The running commentary is enjoyable but not very deep.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) Sharp, witty, biting comedy gets excellent treatment on DVD. I’d vote for this disc anytime.

VITALS:

check.gif (406 bytes) $29.98/Rated R/103 Minutes/Color/18 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#33403

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: ELECTION

BIRTH DATE: 1999

HMO: Paramount Home Video



Comments are closed.