Tracy Flick is an obnoxious overachiever hated by popular teacher Mr McAllister, after she got his best friend fired. When she appears a shoo-in for student council president, he does everything he can to stop her winning
It used to be the case that the Western was the genre that Hollywood turned to when it wanted to examine the state of the nation. But the oater appears to have been usurped by the high school movie. In a year overrun with classic stories reset in schools and teenage dramas as varied as Rushmore, Never Been Kissed and American Pie, Election still managed to be an outstanding picture of 2000, developing the John Hughes genre of the 80s into a form that might be capable of turning out films as sharply incisive about American mores as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Unforgiven.
In a small Omaha community, popular teacher Jim McAllister (Broderick) has to supervise an election for president of the student body but is troubled by the fact that the sole candidate is ferocious overachiever Tracy Flick (Witherspoon), who has already ruined the life of his best friend by getting him sacked after they had an affair. McAllister encourages nice guy jock Paul Metzler (Klein), sidelined from sport by a broken leg, to run against Tracy. A dark horse candidate emerges in Paul's sister Tammy (Campbell), a lesbian whose dearest wish is to be expelled so she can be sent to an all-girls' catholic school, and who reacts when her girlfriend dumps her for her brother by running on an 'I don't care' platform.
With narration from all four of the principles and a script that keeps piling on the moral dilemmas, this never settles for easy moralities. Like Rushmore, it's brilliantly-scripted and played, with a real sense of offbeat character. Broderick, carrying memories of Ferris Bueller into the classroom, delivers his best grown-up performance to date, while Witherspoon (switching her smile on and off like a light), Klein (endearingly dumb) and Campbell (snarling through braces) are spot-on as teen charicatures of larger political types.
Too bitter to be a big success, this second feature from Payne (following Citizen Ruth) is still an excellent movie, funny and painful, with a perfectly-turned punchline and a black humour that foreshadowed his Oscar successes About Schmidt and Sideways.