"You see, you can't interfere with destiny, that's why it's destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing's just going to happen anyway, and you'll just suffer."
Election is Alexander Payne's sophomore film and many consider it to be his best work since it uses some slick and witty dark humor to make a satirical political comedy. Payne manages to mix this political satire with High School life by using the school elections as a metaphor for American politics and in doing so the film is rather successful. Just like that famous short essay written by Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Learn I Learned in Kindergarten" where he claims that if we sticked to the basic rules we learned in kindergarten we would live in a better society, here Payne compares politics to High School elections and shows how corrupt the system actually can be and how selfish these people are. The dirty campaigns all begin in High School and these people seem to be doing things for themselves rather than to help others. I think this is what works best in Payne's ambitious film. I enjoyed the scenes that took place in the High School, but when Payne takes us out of the school to the characters homes it kind of loses its magic. I didn't care very much about their lives outside of school. One of the things that Payne does best is create interesting characters and that is why the actors give engaging performances because they have a lot to work with. These characters are usually dislikable, but somehow we end up routing for one despite all their flaws. Reese Witherspoon's character is so annoying that we actually want Matthew Broderick to succeed despite all the immoral acts he is committing. They both give strong performances, although compared to other Payne films I thought they were the weakest characters. Sideways still remains as my favorite Payne film, but his work here obviously opened a lot of doors for him. Payne is one of the best when it comes to creating midwestern American characters.
Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is a very driven and ambitious student from Carver High who has high goals and expectations for her life. One of those goals is becoming class president, and despite the fact that she is running unopposed she still dedicates most of her time in school to achieving this. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is one of her teachers, but he doesn't like her very much because she had an affair with his best friend, Dave (Mark Harelik), a former teacher who got expelled from school when the director found out. Jim, who is married to Diane (Molly Hagan), decides to complicate things for Tracy by convincing the school jock, Paul (Chris Klein) to enter the race. When Paul's lesbian sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), discovers that he is campaigning for class president, she decides to run as well to pay him back for dating a former love interest of hers. And soon what seemed to be a simple election becomes chaotic as the dirty campaign begins. Will Tracy achieve her goal or will her teacher crash her dream?
The film has each character describe the events that are going on through voice over narrations. At first I thought it didn't work very well as it took me out of the story, but then I understood what Payne was trying to achieve (or at least this is what it transmitted to me), by letting his characters narrate what they were experiencing we understood what they were trying to achieve, the way they wanted others to see them, but of course their actions were completely opposite to the way they wanted to be perceived. It was like their own mask, because they were nothing like what they wanted to be perceived as (take Jim for example who considered himself a likable and influential teacher, but really he ends up being quite the opposite). The characters in this film are very well developed, but they were probably my least favorite from a Payne film. I wasn't a big fan of Chris Klein's performance, but the rest of the cast was pretty strong. The dark humor was witty, but it just wasn't my cup of tea and didn't care for any of the characters. Election may be one of Payne's most ambitious and satirical films, but I would rather sit through Sideways a hundred times than seeing these characters again.