Election at 20: assessing the high school satire’s brutal politics
Reese Witherspoon’s ruthless go-getter remains fascinatingly toxic in Alexander Payne’s bleak and biting political comedy
There’s a big M Night Shyamalan twist in the final minutes of Election, Alexander Payne’s searing 1999 high school satire. Tracy Flick, the irritating overachiever indelibly played by a breakout Reese Witherspoon, is a Republican.
Throughout the film, Payne prefers to think about politics in the abstract, as an illusory choice between interchangeable versions of the same bullshit. Odious civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) explains democracy as having the option to select either an apple or an orange, represented with two identical circles on his chalkboard. The closest thing that this comedy of bad morals has to a hero is Tammy Metzler (Jessica Campbell), who galvanizes the student body with a promise to dissolve the school government in toto if elected class president.