Release Date: April 23, 1999
Box Office Gross: $14,902,041
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness Rating: 93%
Pertinent Review Line: “This story might have lent itself to pratfalls and broad gags, but Mr. Payne keeps it chillier. He sees the frailties of all the film’s characters, even if its plot is supposedly about winners and losers. And for all its nicely malevolent humor this is a story that ultimately leads to disillusionment. As in ”Citizen Ruth,” Mr. Payne has trouble resolving real issues with a simple ending. But the sentiment voiced by McAllister is ’It just makes me sad.’” – Janet Maslin, New York Times
Election is a movie often beloved by critics and film dorks, but it made it into our underrated category simply because on the mainstream whole the movie lacks the praise it is worthy of. It is a movie that gets play time on TBS, but during the off hours. One someone would stumble upon by accident. But the movie deserves much more than that and I’m here to tell you why.
The Case For Why It’s Not Underrated
People like movies, stories in general, where the characters change by the end. This movie lacks that. By the end of this it is clear no one has learned a lesson. Broderick is still critical of the over achiever; Chris Klein is till the popular kid living it up as is expected of the football star; and Reese Witherspoon is still a conniving little bitch. Everyone has moved on with their lives, as far as the election scandal is concerned, but they are no different for it.
The human condition is to learn from our mistakes. We like it when other people screw up, but we like it more when we can see them overcome the screw up. It gives us hope. When tend to compare our problems to them. When they don’t evolve from their big mistakes how can we possibly evolve from our tiny ones? Without the change, people feel like they just wasted two hours.
This movie also draws parallels to the US election process, which is something people would get on board with today; there has been a shift in the popularity of voting. When this movie was made voter turnout was not what it was during the last election. People weren’t as into, and they definitely weren’t into a high school election. Tammy Metzler says it herself, “Who cares about this stupid election?”
The Case For Why It Is Underrated
One of the things that can make or break a movie is the characters. Election is one of those movies with fantastic characters. Reese Witherspoon is the over ambitious unpopular girl. From the start of the movie when she sets up her election headquarters, we are given the impression this girl is all about faux politics. We are given more insight into her ambitions as we get a glimpse of her other activities, all of which she run overbearingly.
Chris Klein plays the popular school quarterback. But he doesn’t play him the way most of us nerd types remember or expect the captain of the football team to be. He is super nice and slightly naïve. There is a quality to him that makes you like him. The exact opposite of Reese Witherspoon’s character.
Then there is Matthew Broderick, the teacher in charge of student government. He is the kind of teacher that made learning fun. He knows how to make the material interesting and memorable. What is nice about this movie and Broderick’s character is we get the glimpse into the life of a teacher. When we go through school we are more concerned with our own lives and problems and all the bull shit teenage politics high school has to offer that we never think about teachers as more than someone who annoys us for a few hours a day. We never think they’re real people who have their own world to live through. This movie shows us that they are.
We are also shown the kind of power a teacher can have, and not the power to change a life in a positive aspect like Dangerous Minds. Broderick sees the same types of kids year after year, and with the emergence of Witherspoon and her over-ambitiousness he has had enough. Not wanting her to waltz through life, but not being able to directly wreck her shit, he does what he can to manipulate the school election to put her in her place. All while trying to deal with hassles of his real life.
And we can’t forget Jessica Campbell playing Klein’s little sister. As the rebel trouble maker she joins the race only to stir things up. How often have we said or heard a friend say they were going to run in the school election as a joke and make tons of outlandish promises? Campbell does that just that and it’s fun to watch her.
These are all characters we have most likely met during our stay in high school. There is dialogue to make these characters even more real. Like Klein being talked into joining the election race with the fruit examples and missing the point and stating he also likes bananas, or Witherspoon’s mispronunciation of the word illegible. These little things make the characters real and the story more believable.
The strengths of these characters enhance the story. On it own merits a story about a high school election sounds more like something written for a high school creative writing class. But the characters and their malice make for an interesting story. We are drawn in and we start to wonder if the likeable Klein will win the election, or if the position will go to the work horse bitch Witherspoon. We also wonder if an extra curricular activity like school government will change Campbell at all.
Then there was the bigger question of who would get the worse of their comeuppance. Would it be Broderick for his role in making shit harder for Witherspoon, or was it Witherspoon for being a giant bitch?
That question is answered as we are privileged to the complete implosion of Broderick’s life. We aren’t saying we approve of what he did, but we can understand it.
This movie also offers some great subtle and dark humor. Both of which can be hard to do well, but this movie pulls it off brilliantly. As well as a good sense of foreshadowing. Everything has a point and it all leads to the same place. Something that could easily be lost on a movie like this.
In the end this isn’t a movie about ethics, it’s a movie about morals.
11 May 2010 Lee S. Hart