By Joe Lozito
A Vote for "Election"
"Election", Alexander Payne's alarmingly insightful film about adolescent "morals and ethics", happily continues a new trend in recent films. At a time when every flash-in-the-pan TV teenager is given a shot at a high school "who am I going to take to the prom" movie, "Election", and the recent and equally incisive "Rushmore", emerge as true portrayals of the teenage mindset compared to those other formulaic bores.
The brilliant theme behind "Election" is that everyone - teacher and student alike - has ulterior motives, and the film gets into its character's heads without being simplistic or insulting. The character's thoughts are told through a series of overlapping voice-overs - a technique employed less successfully in "The Thin Red Line". From the overly self-important Principal to the naïve ex-jock to the teacher who turned to his profession because "he never really wanted to leave high school", there isn't a character in the film that doesn't feel true to life and completely thought out.
Matthew Broderick revisits high school, this time on the other end of the classroom. In a nice wink at his career, it's Mr. Broderick who gets to deliver a Ben Stein-esque "Anyone? Anyone?" as the Social Studies teacher at Carver High School. Mr. Broderick's teacher is sent to hell and back when he butts heads with eager young class presidential candidate Tracy Flick (the perfectly cast Reese Witherspoon).
The endlessly shrewd screenplay never sides with any of its characters. It is never exactly clear who is in the right and who the audience should root for, and this is exactly the point. In a summer of obvious heroes and villains, here's a film that actually makes you think about the behavior of its characters. And with very few exceptions, they behave exactly the way they should.