|Directed by||Alexander Payne|
by Tom Perrotta
|Edited by||Kevin Tent|
|Music by||Rolfe Kent|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$17.2 million|
The plot revolves around a student body election and satirizes politics and high school life. The film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, an overachieving student whom he dislikes. When Tracy runs for student government president, Jim sabotages her candidacy by backing a rival candidate and tampering with the ballot count.
Although not a commercial success, Election received widespread critical acclaim, along with an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Witherspoon for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, and three Independent Spirit Awards including Best Feature Film in 1999.
Jim McAllister teaches U.S. history and civics at Carver High School in Omaha, Nebraska. One of his students is Tracy Flick, an overachieving junior whom McAllister perceives as insufferable and whose mother Judith encourages her to strive for success. Earlier in the year, Jim's colleague and best friend, geometry teacher Dave Novotny, was fired from his job and divorced by his wife Linda after grooming Tracy and engaging in a sexual relationship with her. While Jim felt Dave needed to suffer consequences, he has become resentful of Tracy.
Appalled by Tracy's unopposed run for student government president, Jim persuades Paul Metzler, a popular, good-natured, but dimwitted football player, to enter the race. Sidelined from football with a broken leg sustained in a skiing accident, Paul finds his candidacy gives him purpose. It also infuriates Tracy, who expects to run unchallenged, and resents Paul's popularity and privileged upbringing.
Tammy Metzler, Paul's adopted younger sister, is dumped by her girlfriend Lisa Flanagan, who becomes Paul's girlfriend and campaign manager. Tammy exacts revenge by running for president herself. In her speech at a school assembly, she denounces student government as a sham and vows to dissolve it if she wins, rallying the students to a rowdy standing ovation. The principal, Walt Hendricks, retaliates by suspending her.
Late one Sunday night while working on the school yearbook, Tracy sees that one of her campaign posters has come unstuck from the wall. Trying to secure it, she accidentally rips the poster apart, then furiously destroys the other candidates' campaign posters and discards them in a dumpster, unaware that Tammy is watching. The next day, Jim confronts Tracy, suspecting that she removed the posters. Tracy feigns innocence and trades threats with Jim, but Tammy rescues her by appearing with the torn posters and falsely claiming responsibility. Tammy is expelled and her name struck from the ballot.
The day before the election, Jim has a tryst with Linda, Dave's ex-wife. Linda asks Jim to rent a motel room for an afterschool rendezvous, but she fails to show up. When Jim drives to Linda's house to find her, he is stung by a bee on his eyelid. He returns home to find Linda and his wife Diane talking. Knowing Linda has exposed their encounter, he spends the night in his car.
Jim oversees the tally of the ballots, which finds Tracy winning by a single vote. Seeing Tracy peering in on the vote count and preemptively celebrating, he spitefully disposes of two of Tracy's ballots, throwing the election to Paul. The discarded ballots are later discovered, and Tracy becomes president. Jim is forced to resign, and the election rigging makes headlines. Diane divorces him, taking the house and most of their joint assets.
Publicly humiliated, Jim leaves Nebraska and fulfills his dream of moving to New York City. He becomes a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History and begins dating Jillian, a fellow museum worker. Paul develops an active social life at the University of Nebraska, though without Lisa, who dumps him. Tammy finds a new girlfriend at her all-girls private Catholic school. Tracy attends Georgetown University, where she similarly isolates herself from her peers due to her work-centric nature, and is dismayed that many of her classmates were admitted primarily through connections. Tracy misses Dave's intellect and wonders if he became a novelist as she believed he would; the film shows Dave working in a hardware store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he now lives with his parents.
On a visit to Washington, D.C., Jim spots Tracy getting into a limousine with congressman Mike Geiger, a Republican representative from Nebraska. Infuriated that she will go through life as she did at Carver, he hurls a cup of soda at the limousine's backglass before fleeing. The film ends with Jim at the museum posing a question to a group of elementary school children; an overeager little girl is the only one to respond. He ignores her.
- Matthew Broderick as James "Jim" McAllister
- Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Enid Flick
- Chris Klein as Paul Metzler
- Jessica Campbell as Tammy Metzler
- Mark Harelik as David "Dave" Novotny
- Phil Reeves as Principal Walter "Walt" Hendricks
- Molly Hagan as Diane McAllister
- Delaney Driscoll as Linda Novotny
- Colleen Camp as Judith Flick
- Frankie Ingrassia as Lisa Flanagan
- Matt Malloy as Vice Principal Ronald "Ron" Ball
- Jeanine Jackson as Jo Metzler
- Holmes Osborne as Richard "Dick" Metzler
- Nicholas D'Agosto as Lawrence "Larry" Fouch
- Pegi Georgeson as Ballot Lady
Producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa sent director Alexander Payne an unpublished manuscript from novelist Tom Perrotta called "Election" in 1996. Payne was initially uninterested in directing a high school movie, but changed his mind after he read the manuscript. "It was set in a high school, but it wasn’t a high school story, per se. Also what attracted me was the formal exercise of doing a movie with multiple points of view and multiple voice-overs," said Payne. The novel's rights were sold to Payne in January 1997 and it was officially published in March 1998.
The novel was inspired by the following two key events: the 1992 United States presidential election, in which Ross Perot entered as a third-party candidate (a move echoed by Tammy Metzler), and a 1992 incident at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in which a pregnant student was elected homecoming queen, but staff announced a different winner and burned the ballots to cover it up.
The film uses a number of stylized techniques in its storytelling, particularly through the use of freeze frames, flashbacks and voiceovers, which allow sections of the narrative to be delivered from the points of view of the four main characters (Jim, Tracy, Paul, and Tammy).
The film was primarily shot on location around the Omaha metro area in the fall of 1997, most notably in Papillion, Bellevue and the Dundee neighborhood. Papillion-La Vista Senior High School portrayed the fictitious Carver High School with many of the background extras being actual enrolled students at the time. Minor scenes were filmed at Younkers in Westroads Mall, the Old Market and the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
The film's original ending, which was received poorly by test audiences, was not known until a rough workprint of it was found in a box of VHS tapes at a yard sale in 2011. This ending also appears in the third draft of the script, which can be read online. It is faithful to the book: Jim stays in Omaha and is hired as a used car salesman by one of his former students instead of moving to New York. Tracy encounters Jim while looking to buy a car and the two settle their differences before she has him sign her yearbook.
Election was not a box office success as it grossed only $17.2 million against a budget of $8.5-$25 million.
Election received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 92%, based on 114 reviews, with an average rating of 7.90/10. The critical consensus reads, "Election successfully combines dark humor and intelligent writing in this very witty and enjoyable film." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B−" on scale of A to F. It later placed at #5 in the first annual Village Voice Film Poll.
Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars, praising Witherspoon and Payne, and saying, "...here is a movie that is not simply about an obnoxious student, but also about an imperfect teacher, a lockstep administration, and a student body that is mostly just marking time until it can go out into the world and occupy valuable space".
Desson Howe from The Washington Post recommended the film, saying it was "the satire of the season, a hilarious, razor-sharp indictment of the American Dream," also praising Payne for finding "a perfect fulcrum between humor and tragedy, between black comedy and poignancy."
Election is ranked #61 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies", #389 on Empire's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" and #9 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies", while Witherspoon's performance was ranked at #45 on the list of the "100 Greatest Film Performances of All Time" by Premiere.
Election was released on DVD on October 19, 1999, and Blu-ray on January 20, 2009. A special edition Blu-ray was released by The Criterion Collection on December 16, 2017, with a 4K restoration of the film.
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- Election at Box Office Mojo
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Barack Obama has told me twice that it's his favorite political film.
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- Election at Rotten Tomatoes
- Election at Metacritic
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- Howe, Desson (May 7, 1999). "'Election' Wins By a Landslide". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 16, 2000. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
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- Election at IMDb
- Election at AllMovie
- Election at Rotten Tomatoes
- Election at Metacritic
- Election at Box Office Mojo
- Election: That’s Why It’s Destiny an essay by Dana Stevens at the Criterion Collection
- Ann Hornaday, "The 34 best political movies ever made" The Washington Post (Jan. 23, 2020), ranked #16