FT TOP 100 FILMS
20: ELECTION

Martin Skidmore says:

I’m astonished that director Alexander Payne has attracted quite a lot of criticism from some quarters for picking on particular targets and being cruel about them – Kathy Bates’s family in his next film, About Schmidt, for example. This is misguided – in that film Schmidt is the loser. Roger Ebert astutely points out, about Election, that Payne “stands in the middle of his story and attacks on all directions.” Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick, a role even such a strong actress might never top, is this movie’s monster, running for student president with unstoppable confidence and drive, but her opponent/teacher, Matthew Broderick’s Jim McAllister, is a constant failure, and he is humiliated frequently. The dumb jock is maybe the nicest person in the movie, and his radical lesbian sister (who also runs for election) isn’t just a political joke, but someone suffering romantically.

It’s a teen high school comedy, and probably my favourite of that much maligned (often necessarily) genre, but it works very well as a broader American satire, of many aspects of the culture but especially of elections and politics – we get campaigning, vote-rigging, sexual scandal. The film is drenched in irony, where we can always read scenes very differently from the way the characters see them, or the way their voiceovers (all four mentioned above contribute) interpret things. I think this is a very sharp and strong film, and with About Schmidt since I think Alexander Payne may be a really great director – I think he is likely to become my favourite new filmmaker since the Coens.

Pete Baran says:

Maybe cops get this feeling when watching cop flicks. I run student elections, and have had candidates like Tracy Flick. Have I ever been tempted to do what McAlister does here. Only in my darkest hours, tempted, and never done. And it is a nicely cautionary tale about the crippling of the soul that would happen along with this.

There is also one perfect moment right near the start. It is a freeze frame, with Broderick doing the voice-over. It freeze-frame is of Witherspoon mid-flow and the pose selected is so grotesque and unpleasant that it says almost as much about the character as the description being handed out. Payne holds on this freeze frame for much, much longer than many others would dare – kudos to Witherspoon for even letting him. A perfect little film, about something I do and hate doing every year.

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