F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 7, 2012)

7 12 2012

The election has been over a month.

Let that sink in. I know the last thing you want to do now that the nasty rhetoric and half-truths have ceased, and you have finally begun to realize that life can exist without vicious campaign ads.  But since the political system has churned out another major crisis with the fiscal cliff, it seems that Alexander Payne’s 1999 film “Election,” a micro look at the American electoral system will never get old.  In fact, it seems to have only gotten more and more timely – and that should scare you.

Though Alexander Payne’s last two movies have won him Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, I would still argue “Election” is his finest script.  It works remarkably well as both a human story and an allegory for bigger things like American democracy and morality.  And after a few viewings, you start to see how brilliantly and subversively he uses American iconography to poke at the problems corroding the foundation of our great nation.

While many have lamented Payne’s insistence of voice-over in films that might not need it (such as “The Descendants“), his twisted employment of archetypical characters with a whole lot hidden under the surface really makes their narration yield some surprising revelations.  It allows us to penetrate deep into the characters beyond the functions they believe they should be functioning at Carver High School.  Not to mention, Payne writes stream-of-consciousness dialogue with a fantastic accuracy and hilarity.

By all means, the president of the student body should easily by Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick.  She’s the epitome of high school perfect and has worked her butt off to be the most qualified (or at least ensures she’s the most passionate) for the office.  But there’s also something incredibly annoying about her quest, and her teacher, Matthew Broderick’s Jim McAllister, is on a mission to stop it.  As the faculty adviser for student government, he still believes it can do good – he just doesn’t want Tracy to be the one to get credit for it.

Rather than let her run for the office unopposed, Mr. McAllister manipulates popular football player Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to challenge Tracy.  He’s rich, handsome, and an absolute moron.  But they both get more than they bargained for when Paul’s frustrated closeted lesbian sister, the frumpy Tammy, decides to run out of revenge.  Her platform of anarchy, pointing out how stupid student government elections really are, catches on with the Carver High students … and what ensues as the three duke it out for the presidency is absolutely hysterical madness.

Who do we side with though?  Who is the “right” candidate?  Sadly, we are faced with this decision all the time.  Do we vote for the appealing, good-looking candidate even though they might not be particularly qualified?  Or the overqualified one who might rub us the wrong way?  Better yet, should we go with the person who realizes how pointless and pathetic the electoral system is?  These are just a few of the questions that keep Alexander Payne’s “Election” a truly exceptional movie, one more than worthy to be featured as the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

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