Or don’t. But prepare to be squished. That’s exactly the position teacher Jim McAllister puts himself in when he sets out to destroy Tracy after he coaxes injured quarterback Paul Metzler to enter the race. His reasoning isn’t so much because the ethics teacher hates Tracy (though he will), but that he believes in the apples-and-orange-and-bananas philosophy of democracy. Right? Doesn’t he?
Like all elections, someone will topple over while another conquers. There’s always a slip-up, like Howard Dean’s “YEAHH!” or the basic idea of Sarah Barracuda. In Election, the real mistake of those involved is that they underestimate their opponents. Tracy (a wicked Reese Witherspoon), who sees the position of Class President as her destiny, brushes off the very aloof Paul (Chris Klein) as unworthy, as she does his lesbian sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), who enters the race to get back at Paul for stealing her girlfriend. And poor Jim (Matthew Broderick) is in way over his head. “None of this would have happened if Mr. McAllister hadn’t meddled the way he did,” Tracy narrates.
None of what, exactly? Alexander Payne’s dark comedy, co-written with partner Jim Taylor and based off Tom Perrotta’s novel, never loses sight of its goal, going beyond what you’d expect to see in a “high school movie,” if you want to label Election as such. If so, it’s one of the funniest, ugliest, and most clever. The characters lie, cheat, and steal their way to Election Day, all the while the humorous use of freeze frames allude to political attack ads and smear campaigns.
The best that could come from an election, I guess, is short-term power. The worst would be to lose everything and become a villain. Paul and Tammy are easy to forgive because their hearts are in the right place and they seem to be running on the sibling rivalry ticket; they’ll still pass the green beans at the dinner table. Tracy will be fine, and will probably—Class President on her college application or not—get into Georgetown or some other university whose acceptance rate is under 20%. But Jim…well, he’s really the only one who’s betrayed his morals (or is it his ethics?). He deserves whatever sting is coming.