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Election (1999)


kimmy

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I'm really sick this week so I have had some time to stay home and watch movies. Yesterday, I watched Election, a comedy and drama set in a suburban high school in Omaha, Nebraska. It presents a clash of wills between Tracy Flick, an annoyingly ambitious student who is determined to become class president, and Jim McAllister, a teacher who is determined to thwart her.

Tracy, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, is an only child, raised by a doting single mother who encourages Tracy's relentless drive and ambition. “Some people think I'm an overachiever, but I think they're just jealous. My mom says I'm different. You know, special? And I think that if you look at all the things I've accomplished so far, you'd have to agree.” She likens herself to Coca Cola, pointing out that they still try harder than everybody else even though they're already the #1 soft drink. Tracy is a snob, convinced of her own brilliance and of the mediocrity of everyone else around her. She is perplexed that she is not admired and appreciated by the other students. She can hardly wait to get to college, believing that she will finally be among her equals.

Jim McAllister, portrayed by Matthew Broderick, is the protagonist and primary narrator of the film. Jim, “Mr M” to his students, is a dedicated teacher. Or at least, he thinks he is. He involves himself with the students, he pitches in to help with the student council, he talks with pride about how how he touches his students lives. The cliché teacher speech about shaping young lives, that is how Jim McAllister views himself. “Teaching is all I ever wanted to do. Standing in front of a room full of young people, trying to get them excited about the world, trying to make them think, preparing them for the tough moral and ethical decisions that would face them as adults. That's how I wanted to spend my life.”

While Tracy sees herself as Coca Cola, we notice a number of times that Jim drinks Pepsi... the #2 soft drink. In a scene early in the movie, Jim poses questions about morals and ethics to his class, and while Tracy keeps shooting her hand up to answer, Jim looks around his classroom, hoping that somebody else-- anybody but Tracy-- will volunteer. If it were just that she were annoying, the animosity Jim has toward Tracy would be hard to understand. But that's not the root of it. Jim's best friend Dave was also a teacher at the school, who was fired for having a sexual relationship with Tracy. Dave's marriage and career were destroyed, while Tracy suffered no consequences at all. The incident was kept secret, and Tracy's reputation as a goody-two-shoes was unharmed. And with Tracy set to become class president by acclamation, that doesn't sit well with Jim. Jim recruits a dumb but kind-hearted jock, Paul (Chris Klein), to run against Tracy. Tracy quickly realizes that Paul had no ambitions of his own, and when she learns that Jim put him up to it, she begins to hate Jim as much as he hates her.

At the start of the movie, Broderick is handsome and youthful looking. As the movie progresses, he becomes increasingly stressed and haggard looking, and later in the film, suffers a wasp-sting to his eyelid that causes grotesque swelling. The physical transformation mirrors his character, as he becomes less and less the paragon he tells us he is, and more and more of a hypocrite. He tells us he loves the students, but begins to turn a deaf ear to them. He tells us he loves his wife, but moves toward adultery. He talks about teaching morals and ethics, but his own morals and ethics fall completely apart. As narrator he tells us he doesn't blame Tracy Flick for what happened to his friend Dave, but as we watch we learn that he certainly does blame her, and his attempt to derail her dream of becoming class president is his attempt to achieve some small piece of symbolic justice.

* * *

Election is an entertaining movie, both as a comedy and a drama. It was a breakthrough for Reese Witherspoon, and launched Chris Klein into a successful career as well. The performance earned Witherspoon her first Golden Globe nomination, and Premiere Magazine ranked the performance as #45 on their 100 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time list. I thought Witherspoon was amazing as June Carter in “Walk The Line” but as Tracy Flick she is even better.

While reading some of the reviews of the movie and opinions about Witherspoon's performance, I was surprised at how often she was described as a villain...

"How wonderfully monstrous is the fabulous Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne's Election."

"Like Humbert Humbert, the Reverend Harry Powell, and Baby Jane Hudson before her, Tracy Flick is a real and lasting contribution to the cinematic understanding of the villain, and the feather in Witherspoon's cap."

I didn't see her as a villain. She's arrogant and annoying and ferociously ambitious, but mostly I think she is kind of a tragic figure. She is alone, and the whole of her self-image seems to be tied to the things she achieves, not the person she is. Her look of utter disbelief and emptiness when Mr McAllister announces Paul as the winner is truly heart-wrenching. Even though we've spent an hour and a half hoping to see this brat taught a lesson, when it finally comes it's a hollow victory for viewers and even for Mr McAllister. Jim McAllister is our protagonist but he is hardly a hero. As we watch the movie his hypocrisy and the depths he sink to are increasingly hard to stomach. The only completely sympathetic character in the film is Paul, who never becomes caught up in the election and never thinks badly of anyone, even Tracy. His lack of ambition and his naivety are, oddly, his most redeeming qualities.

Interestingly, several female politicians often seem to be compared to Tracy Flick, including Elizabeth Dole,

, and Sarah Palin. Newly appointed New York senator Kirsten Gillebrand has been nicknamed Tracy Flick, and it's not intended as a compliment. One cynic goes so far as to declare “All female politicians are Tracy Flick!”

I think that this character, Tracy Flick, seems to tap into something that people find grating about ambitious women... and they see a little Tracy Flick in other ambitious women as a result.

-k

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Election is an entertaining movie, both as a comedy and a drama. It was a breakthrough for Reese Witherspoon, and launched Chris Klein into a successful career as well.
In political/ambition terms, "Election" was more than that.

Election was produced by an early MTV exec. (WTF?) Well, Election is about ambition.

Chris Klein was a student in the high school where it was made, hired first as an extra. The filmmaker (like Chris Klein) was a fellow Nebraskan who went on to make About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson. Then, he made Sideways.

Reese Witherspoon? I just saw Man in the Moon and I was about to review it here (along with Summer of 42, since Dobbin once accused me of pornography in reference to Robert Mulligan). Mulligan was a great director and I wonder whether Witherspoon is simply a good actress, or she works well with great directors.

I decided that Witherspoon was a good actress when I saw Legally Blonde.

----

I liked Election because it presented honestly a moral dilemma, like Quiz Show. For me, these two scripts are well-rendered downscale versions of A Man For All Seasons. Between Matthew Broderick and Ralph Fiennes, I think I would choose Paul Scofield.

And despite what Dobbin claims, I suggest that you rent a Robert Mulligan movie. Such humanity is rare now. And Reese Witherspoon is a good actress.

Edited by August1991
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And despite what Dobbin claims, I suggest that you rent a Robert Mulligan movie. Such humanity is rare now. And Reese Witherspoon is a good actress.

What exactly are you referring to?

Did I say Robert Mulligan was a poor director or that To Kill a Mockingbird was a poor film?

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Election was produced by an early MTV exec. (WTF?)
MTV Films has made a considerable number of youth-oriented movies. Some of them, like Election, have been surprisingly good. Some have been sheer unmitigated crap. Most have been at least to some degree a little different from what other studios think older teens and young adults want to watch.

I think they've found a commercial niche in producing films that other producers would not "get". For example, I can't picture a typical 40-something studio exec looking over a treatment for "Napolean Dynomite" and thinking "yeah, this could work!" Or if they did, they'd completely revise the story and characters to fit what they view as commercially viable, thereby destroying what actually did make the movie a success.

I decided that Witherspoon was a good actress when I saw Legally Blonde.
I as well. I had been resistant to seeing that film for obvious reasons, but when I finally was coerced into seeing it I came away impressed with her. She turns the proverbial pig's ear into a silk purse.

-k

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...I think they've found a commercial niche in producing films that other producers would not "get". For example, I can't picture a typical 40-something studio exec looking over a treatment for "Napolean Dynomite" and thinking "yeah, this could work!" Or if they did, they'd completely revise the story and characters to fit what they view as commercially viable, thereby destroying what actually did make the movie a success.

MTV brands and productions are part of Viacom, and old / new (and huge) American media conglomerate. It will continue the tradition of suits co-opting the youth side of pop culture for profits.

Remember when rap artists couldn't get any MTV air time? :lol:

Edited by bush_cheney2004
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MTV brands and productions are part of Viacom, and old / new (and huge) American media conglomerate. It will continue the tradition of suits co-opting the youth side of pop culture for profits.

Remember when rap artists couldn't get any MTV air time? :lol:

I remember when cool black blues and r & b artist could not get air play...so that curly lipped fraudist Elvis came in and stole the material and the free wheeling sexual moves of the black artists - who got nothing - and meanwhile they labelled Elvis - King! He wrote one tune in his whole life and died on the toilet over loaded with pharma..that is not a king....so you seem to know a bit about the industry - If I produce will you distribute? Now with record companies confused on how to control art - how is an artist or producer supposed to generate income from a hit tune? Any ideas?

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Just remember that if you want to get paid....it is no longer art. The rest will follow....Hey hey we're The Monkees!

You are soooo old....time to grow up ---spoke to some young studio owners that I have known for a while..they want to "catalogue" my archived material and record some of the new tunes --- I said - "whats in it for me?" Publishing - of course you have to think buisness now and not art - These young upstarts know that access and rights to good material may generate income - and I am not going to be the proverbial dead guy while someone else drives my new car... Thanks....I trust your judgement....I have been the artist to long - now it's time to collect - and I don't care what you call it - art - fart - product - intellectual property or soul - yes I will sell that also...I have lots of soul to spare. ;)

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....Thanks....I trust your judgement....I have been the artist to long - now it's time to collect - and I don't care what you call it - art - fart - product - intellectual property or soul - yes I will sell that also...I have lots of soul to spare. ;)

Trust me my friend...I know of what you speak...my old man was in the business for many years as an "artist". But he knew better....he was just a well paid entertainer until the IRS caught up with him. Long since dead, he gets the last laugh because he is immortal on eBay (used record sales).

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Trust me my friend...I know of what you speak...my old man was in the business for many years as an "artist". But he knew better....he was just a well paid entertainer until the IRS caught up with him. Long since dead, he gets the last laugh because he is immortal on eBay (used record sales).

The feds screwed me also..not to worry - feels like I am just getting the hang of things - funny life might just begin after 50..and dreams do come true...sounds like your dad was also wonderful - to bad our fathers could see us now --- we actually grew up to be men - so what if we took our time - at least we got here - some did not ----see you later - pleasure as usual...Be thankful that you had a dad that was not.....a coward..one who followed a dream - as you now do - and as I will always do - never give up!

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I'm always amazed, Oleg, at how every thread you participate in veers off topic and spirals out of control into an unbridled celebration of idiocy.

MTV brands and productions are part of Viacom, and old / new (and huge) American media conglomerate. It will continue the tradition of suits co-opting the youth side of pop culture for profits.

Remember when rap artists couldn't get any MTV air time? :lol:

That might be... but the MTV Films division still seems to be in the hands of people who understand that middle-aged suits don't understand the audience they're aiming for.

Being commercially successful isn't in itself a bad thing. (If nobody is making money, it means nobody is watching your movie.) The failure isn't when films achieve commercial success. It's when films are designed to achieve commercial success. When executives start demanding changes to make the film fit with what they think will make more money. "The General's Daughter" had a new ending shot, because focus groups said that the original ending left them angry and sad. The new ending left audiences feeling angry and sad too, because it seemed fake and stupid and left them wishing they had their $10 back.

I once saw an interview where someone talked about Guillermo Del Toro's struggles in making "Hellboy". Every time he sent "dailys" to the studio people, they sent him back a boatload of stupid ideas that they wanted him to implement. They wanted Hellboy to have a cute little demonic pooch named "Helldog". They wanted him to drive around in a "Hellmobile". They wanted to replace Selma Blair with somebody sexier. They wanted Selma Blair's character "Liz" to have a costume and a super-hero name so that they could make her into action figure. They wanted goofy weapons and stuff so that they could make a line of toys.

That's the kind of disaster I would envision if "Election" or "Napoleon Dynamite" were done by Disney (or some other mainstream studio) instead of by MTV Films. Thankfully, somebody in that corporate entity appears to understand that they can make more money by keeping their hands off.

(Hellboy turned out well: Del Toro finally got fed up and told them that they would have to fire him if they wanted those changes to be made; they quit asking for changes, and they got a moderately successful franchise.)

-k

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...That's the kind of disaster I would envision if "Election" or "Napoleon Dynamite" were done by Disney (or some other mainstream studio) instead of by MTV Films. Thankfully, somebody in that corporate entity appears to understand that they can make more money by keeping their hands off....

MTV Films (and sister production company Nickelodeon) are really just Paramount Pictures.....pretty mainstream in my opinion. True Indies would just roll their eyes......

Edited by bush_cheney2004
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MTV Films (and sister production company Nickelodeon) are really just Paramount Pictures.....pretty mainstream in my opinion. True Indies would just roll their eyes......
Disney bought Miramax in the early 1990s but left it to run as an independent. Saturn is an independent organization of GM.

I wonder whether MTV is just a brand thing, like putting Walt Disney in the credits to signal family entertainment.

I'm always amazed, Oleg, at how every thread you participate in veers off topic and spirals out of control into an unbridled celebration of idiocy.
Giggle. The image of a veering then unbridled horse spiraling had me laughing.
What exactly are you referring to?

Did I say Robert Mulligan was a poor director or that To Kill a Mockingbird was a poor film?

I don't remember the context exactly but I once referred to Summer of 42 as a good, thoughtful movie and you responded (accurately) that today it would be considered child abuse since it involves a 15 year old boy and an older woman.
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Disney bought Miramax in the early 1990s but left it to run as an independent. Saturn is an independent organization of GM.

I wonder whether MTV is just a brand thing, like putting Walt Disney in the credits to signal family entertainment.

Yep...that's exactly what it is...smart branding and even smarter marketing. The DVD jacket cover for my copy of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's "GET RICH or DIE TRYIN' " is all Paramount / Viacom with a MTV label.

I don't remember the context exactly but I once referred to Summer of 42 as a good, thoughtful movie and you responded (accurately) that today it would be considered child abuse since it involves a 15 year old boy and an older woman.

Yes, but for that particular woman we would drop all charges and give our lad a medal! :lol:

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I don't remember the context exactly but I once referred to Summer of 42 as a good, thoughtful movie and you responded (accurately) that today it would be considered child abuse since it involves a 15 year old boy and an older woman.

It is the same reaction that The Reader is receiving in some quarters.

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