Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Delaney Driscoll, Mark Harelik
Tom Perrotta (novel), Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Reading, Writing, Revenge.
Director Alexander Payne's second film, based on the novel by Tom Perotta, takes the scandal and mudslinging associated with presidential elections and transposes them to a high school election for student council president in Nebraska - with impossibly sharp, satirical results. Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a teacher who will stop at nothing to prevent perfect Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), who is running unopposed, from winning the election. Jim, who bears a personal grudge against Tracy, goads a popular but dim football player (Chris Klein) into running against her. This spurs on a series of strange events (both madcap and surprisingly sexual), which add up to an uncommonly funny high school film for adults.
$119.080 thousand on 6 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 103 min.
Release Date: 10/19/1999
• Audio Commentary from Director Alexander Payne
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 19, 2008)
Although the action revolves around a high school, 1999’s Election definitely doesn't fall into the same category as more standard teen fare such as 10 Things I Hate About You. Despite the setting, Election is fully an adult movie. There's not much here onto which the average teen can glom. It falls more fully into the category of semi-satirical black comedy, and it achieves its goals in that department pretty well.
One nice touch in Election comes from the realistic appearance of the environment. I've worked in schools for some time now, so I know how they look, and Election shows some of the most realistic classrooms I've ever seen. These aren't some glam set designer's ideas of what would look like a cool class. The realism exists for a reason: the classes are real classrooms. Director Alexander Payne notes in his commentary that these scenes were shot in the real classrooms in a real high school that was really in Omaha, Nebraska. Actually, the commentary reveals Payne to be fairly obsessed with maintaining a natural appearance, and that preoccupation works well in this picture.
One interesting twist on the typical teen formula regards some of our main characters. Usually in this kind of movie, the "big man on campus" character - here embodied by dull-witted jock Paul (Chris Klein) – gets knocked down a peg or twelve and receives some sort of comeuppance, or at least discovers new insights into his personality. Not here. Paul's really the only truly nice person in the movie, and he glides through the whole movie with a positive attitude that remains absolutely unscathed. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but Paul's never going to figure that out; he'll remain dumb but happy forever.
On the flipside is Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a girl from modest means who works her butt off and overachieves like crazy. Interestingly, she's the nominal villain of the piece, though I'm not sure that designation is quite fair. She's quite focussed and absorbed on keeping herself ahead, and her determination makes her ruthless and unethical, but she doesn't actually seem to be bad; it appears that she simply doesn't know any other way to behave. Being number one at all things has become a way of life for her so all she does has to feed that demon.
While all of the characters are fairly one-dimensional - Matthew Broderick's teacher Jim McAllister being the most broadly defined persona - Tracy seems especially so. Witherspoon's a fine actress but her portrayal appears fairly one-note with little indication of any other side of Tracy's personality. According to the audio commentary, that's not the fault of Witherspoon; it turns out that a number of scenes were shot that open up her character but they found themselves on the cutting room floor. I'm not sure whether the character is more or less successful as she appears in the final cut, but it would have been interesting to see the deleted scenes.
While Broderick's McAllister would seem to be the film's protagonist - he's the main character, at least - it could be argued that he falls into the villain's spot as easily as does Tracy. Of the main characters, they're really the only ones who behave unethically. However, since he's the one who has to pay more directly for his sins, he comes across as more of a tragic figure; it's his pettiness and envy that drive the plot and that cause his downfall. Tracy's megalomania provokes her to act inappropriately, but she escapes pretty much scot-free; McAllister's the one who suffers.
Anyway, those are just some of the issues I considered after watching
Election. Although it seems somewhat cartoonish at times, I think it harbors a number of different themes and areas that are ripe for exploration and discussion. If you don't want to do that, however, you can just watch the movie on its own and enjoy it; it stands up nicely as a cruelly entertaining piece.
The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+
Election appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer failed to provide an effective presentation.
Sharpness created many of the inconsistencies. In general, focus was good for fairly close-up shots but tended to become somewhat fuzzy when the camera zoomed out beyond that range. This left a fair amount of softness throughout the movie, despite more than a few good shots. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but mild edge haloes cropped up through the flick.
Source flaws were a bigger concern, especially early in the film. The opening shots suffered from a lot of specks, marks and debris. The rest of the movie came across as cleaner, though a smattering of defects still materialized. The transfer could – and should – have been significantly cleaner than it was.
Colors tended to be lackluster. The movie went with a natural palette, but I thought the hues veered in the direction of drabness and rarely showed much vivacity. Granted, I didn’t expect this tale to feature bright, dynamic tones, but I thought they should’ve been livelier. Blacks were acceptably dark and deep, while shadows were a bit muddy. Low-light shots offered acceptable clarity but weren’t particularly strong. The image lacked the positives to rise above a “C-“.
Somewhat more successful was the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. As I'd expect from this kind of movie, it's a pretty unassuming track, but it complemented the picture to an acceptable degree. The front soundstage offered a decent amount of depth. It lacked a tremendous amount of spatialization but it still placed sounds across the three front channels. While the rear speakers didn't get much of a workout, they did contribute to the overall effect and they even featured some well-placed split surround images on occasion.
The quality of the audio was always fine. Dialogue sounded natural and concise; I noticed a few slightly edgy lines, but nothing serious marred the speech. Music showed decent range and delineation, and effects – a pretty minor aspect of the track – were clean and clear. Nothing special stood out here, but the audio was adequate for this sort of flick.
Election includes one supplement: an audio commentary from director Alexander Payne. During this running, screen-specific chat, Payne discusses how he came onto the project, the script and the adaptation of the source novel, themes and symbolism, locations and sets, cast, characters and performances, deleted scenes, music, production design, and costumes.
When I initially reviewed this DVD back in 1999, I didn’t think much about the commentary; I felt it was slow-paced and lacked much depth. I guess the last nine years have shown me some really bad commentaries, so this one looks much better by comparison. Really, my only minor complaint comes from the moderate amount of dead air, as Payne goes silent a little more often than I’d like.
Nonetheless, Payne covers most of the movie, and he offers a lot of good notes. He goes over both production specifics as well as more introspective topics, so he balances out the chat well. I still wouldn’t call this a great commentary, but it’s a good one with quite a bit of useful information.
A barbed look at high school politics, Election provides an amusing and tart affair. Complete with good performances and clever situations, it provides an entertaining ride. The DVD offers lackluster visuals as well as decent audio and a pretty good audio commentary. Election is a rich film that will probably hold up nicely to repeated viewings.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4545 Stars
| Number of Votes: 11