Election (1999 film)

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Election 1999film.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Alexander Payne
Produced by Albert Berger
Ron Yerxa
David Gale
Keith Samples
Screenplay by Alexander Payne
Jim Taylor
Based on Election
by Tom Perrotta
Starring Matthew Broderick
Reese Witherspoon
Music by Rolfe Kent
Cinematography James Glennon
Edited by Kevin Tent
MTV Films
Bona Fide Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 23, 1999 (1999-04-23)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $14.9 million

Election is a 1999 American comedy-drama film directed and written by Alexander Payne and adapted by him and Jim Taylor from Tom Perrotta's 1998 novel of the same title. The plot revolves around a high school election and satirizes both suburban high school life and politics. The film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, around the time of the school's student body election. When Tracy qualifies to run for class president, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title and tries his best to stop her from winning.

Election opened to acclaim from critics, who praised its writing and direction. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Witherspoon in the Best Actress category, and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film in 1999.


Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is a much-admired high school history teacher living in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska, who is actively involved in many after-school activities, one of which is overseeing the student government election process. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is an overachieving junior with an insufferable air of self-importance. Earlier in the year, another teacher, Jim's best friend Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik) was fired from his job and divorced by his wife, Linda (Delaney Driscoll) after it came out that he and Tracy were having a sexual affair, while Tracy's reputation was unscathed.

Against this backdrop, Tracy announces that she is running for student council president. Initially she is unopposed, as she is widely seen as the natural candidate for the job. When Tracy presents Mr. McAllister with her list of nominating signatures to qualify for the election ballot, she makes a remark about "working closely" together that he interprets as an indication she may try to seduce him. Perhaps annoyed by Tracy's presumptuousness, and/or concerned that he might give in to this seduction and share the same fate as his friend Dave, Mr. McAllister decides to persuade junior Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a slow-witted, but affable and popular football player to enter the race. Paul is unable to play football as he is recovering from a ski injury that resulted in his left leg being broken, and Mr. McAllister suggests a new way to explore his talents through student council. Although Paul is ambivalent at first, he agrees to run, much to Tracy's consternation.

Meanwhile, Paul's adopted younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is rejected by her romantic interest Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia), who dismisses their time together as "experimenting." Lisa then engages in a passionate relationship with Paul. In retaliation, Tammy decides to run for school president as well. During a school assembly to hear the candidate's speeches, after Tracy only draws polite applause and Paul is barely able to read his speech, Tammy announces that the office of school president is useless and promises nothing, except to try and dissolve student government. The speech rallies the students to a standing ovation, but her subversive diatribe results in her getting a suspension from school.

While working on another project after school, Tracy has an uncharacteristic fit of rage and destroys all of Paul's campaign posters. She then drives to a local power plant to dispose of the shredded posters in a nearby dumpster. Unbeknownst to Tracy, her attempted cover-up is witnessed by Tammy who was meditating near her favorite spot, an electric substation. The next day, when Mr. McAllister confronts Tracy about the missing posters and lectures her that "all of our actions can carry serious consequences," Tracy adamantly claims innocence, despite his insistence that all evidence points to her as the chief suspect. At that moment, Tammy knocks on the door and tells Mr. MacAllister she knows who tore down the posters. Tracy is asked to wait outside the room while Tammy speaks to Mr. McAllister. Tracy experiences a moment of sheer panic when she peers in the window only to see Tammy revealing the shredded posters. What Tracy can't hear is that Tammy is falsely confessing to a skeptical Mr. McAllister that it is she, not Tracy, who perpetrated the poster sabotage. As a result, Tammy is disqualified from the election and expelled from school. Tracy is now off the hook. But this clearly does not sit well with Jim, who still suspects Tracy is the guilty party. Meanwhile, Tammy's punishment of being sent to an all-girls Catholic school secretly pleases her and is the reason she took the blame for the vandalism.

The day before the election, Linda Novotny asks Jim to come over to help unclog her bathtub drain. After Jim completes the job, Linda unexpectedly initiates a sexual liaison with him and then suggests that he book a motel room for them to continue their dalliance later that day, a proposition Jim himself had half-jokingly made to Linda shortly after her breakup with Dave. However, Linda apparently has a change of heart and is nowhere to be found when Jim arrives at her house to pick her up for their tryst. Not knowing where Linda could be, Jim walks into her backyard where he has the misfortune of being stung by a bee on his right eyelid, causing a terribly painful and unsightly allergic reaction. He then drives back to the motel and desperately tries to reach Linda by phone, but to no avail. Jim eventually returns to his own house later that evening only to find Linda and his wife (Molly Hagan) huddled together crying in the living room. Realizing that Linda has disclosed the infidelity to his wife and that he is no longer welcome at home, Jim spends a miserable night sleeping in his car outside Linda's house.

The next day — election day — Jim oversees the counting of the ballots, though by now his right eyelid is grotesquely swollen and almost completely shut as a result of the bee sting. Paul had voted for Tracy, feeling that it would be arrogant to vote for himself. But this turns out to be a costly decision. The ballots are meticulously counted by a duo of student auditors, who determine that Tracy has prevailed by a single vote. It is then up to Jim to perform a final ballot count to certify the outcome. When Jim happens to spot Tracy dancing excitedly in the hall, he deduces that she may have been tipped off about the vote count. Angered by Tracy's unseemly display of glee and her dirty-tricks campaign tactics, Jim decides to take matters into his own hands by surreptitiously disposing of two of Tracy's ballots and declaring Paul the official victor. This turnabout elicits incredulity and shock from the two student auditors, who are certain that their original vote count was accurate. Tracy is shocked and despondent upon hearing the unexpected news of her defeat. Jim goes to the same motel he intended to commit adultery in, only this time to actually use it for lodging. When he awakens, he is confident of patching things up with his wife now that the election is behind him. However, the school janitor, to whom Jim had been unknowingly rude earlier by creating unneeded extra work for him, discovers the two discarded ballots in the trash and presents them to the principal. When Jim is confronted with the evidence of his fraudulent intervention, he admits everything and resigns. The rigged election becomes a nationwide email trope, and as a result Jim's wife fails to forgive him.

Divorced, publicly humiliated and ostracized by everyone he knows, Jim leaves Nebraska forever, choosing to fulfill his longtime dream of moving to New York City, where he becomes a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History and begins a quiet relationship with a new woman. After serving her senior year as the new hard-line and strict dictator-like class president, Tracy graduates at the top of her class and gets accepted into Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a full scholarship and a desire to go into politics as both her major and future career, but she soon finds the experience disappointing. Despite having gotten everything she ever wanted in life, Tracy still has no friends, no social life, and cannot fit in anywhere at the university as most outgoing students there have slid-on-by connections. The happy-go-lucky Paul gets into the University of Nebraska with a scholarship of his own where he joins a popular fraternity, makes many new friends, and resumes his career at playing football for the university, while the misanthropic Tammy becomes romantically involved with a fellow student at the all-girls Catholic school and later runs away with her for places unknown. Jim's friend, Dave, moves to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and takes a low-paying job stocking shelves at a local supermarket.

As the film draws to a close, the film skips forward seven years after Jim's dismissal from Nebraska where Jim is at a conference in Washington D.C. and he sees Tracy from a distance as she enter a limousine with a congressman (revealed to be Mike Geiger, a Republican representative from Nebraska) whom she appears to work for as a member of his congressional staff. Enraged at the thought of Tracy, yet again, lying, cheating and manipulating her way into political success, Jim hurls a milkshake at the limousine, then makes a quick getaway. The film ends with Jim safely back in New York City at his tour guide job posing questions to a group of young school children who are visiting the museum, deliberately ignoring the raised hand of an overeager little blonde-haired girl who reminds him of the ruthless overachiever Tracy Flick.



Director Alexander Payne had become a fan of the novel by Tom Perrotta on which the film is based; the novel's rights were sold to Payne in January 1997. The novel was inspired by two key events. The first was the 1992 Bush vs. Clinton election campaign, in which Ross Perot entered as a third party candidate (a move echoed by Tammy Metzler). The second was an 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.[1][2] Payne specifically had in mind Matthew Broderick for the part due to his role as the popular student in Ferris Bueller's Day Off,[citation needed] this role to be a play on that with Broderick now playing an authority figure; a teacher who is respected by students.

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.[3]

The film was originally shot with an ending close to the one found in the novel, with Jim McCallister working in a car dealership, where Tracy visits him before leaving for college. After testing poorly with audiences, the ending was eventually reshot. The original ending was unseen until the accidental discovery of an early VHS workprint of the film at a flea market in 2011.[4]

The film's production coordinator, Holly Balbinder (writing as Holly Raychelle Hughes), accused assistant director George Parra of physical abuse and sexual assault, and director Alexander Payne of being verbally abusive on the film.[5]


Much of the film was shot in and around the Omaha area including Dundee, Elkhorn, Bellevue, Carter Lake, and Papillion. Other scenes were filmed in New York (including the college scene, which was actually filmed at Adelphi University on Long Island) and Washington D.C. Production shut down for about a month when a freak fall snowstorm hit Omaha in October 1997, knocking down trees and power lines.[citation needed]

Omaha locations used during production include:

  • Papillion La Vista Senior High School serves as the setting for George Washington Carver High School and filming took place during the 1997-98 school year.
  • The Godfather's Pizza where Dave visits with Tracy is located at 7920 S. 84th St. in LaVista.
  • The parking lot where Jim throws away Tracy's nomination signatures in a dumpster was filmed on the corner of N. 50th St. and Underwood Ave. The Carl S. Baum Druggists building in the scene is currently a bar called The French Bulldog.
  • Linda's house is located at 683 Parkwood Ln.
  • The Metzler house is located at 1562 S. 187 Cir. along the Shadow Ridge Country Club south of Elkhorn.
  • Younkers is located in the Westroads Mall.
  • The soccer field at Brownell-Talbot School was used for the Immaculate Heart soccer game.
  • The American Family Inn is located at 1110 Fort Crook Road in Bellevue. It has since changed owners and is now a Rodeway Inn.


Election was a box office bomb as it grossed only $14.9 million against a budget of $25 million.

The film, however, was met with critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 92%, based on 105 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The critical consensus reads, "Election successfully combines dark humor and intelligent writing in this very witty and enjoyable film."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four, praising Witherspoon and Payne, and saying that, "...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".[8]

Election is ranked #61 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" 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. According to Payne, it is also U.S. President Barack Obama's favorite political film.[9]


  1. ^ "Officials Deny Pregnant Girl School Crown". The New York Times. October 14, 1992. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  2. ^ Crace, John (February 21, 2009). "A life in writing: Tom Perrotta". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Todd McCarthy Review from 'Variety'". April 19, 1999. 
  4. ^ "Watch The Never Before Seen Original Ending of Alexander Payne's Election". Slashfilm.com. 2011-05-13. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  5. ^ "IT HAPPENED TO ME: An Oscar Winner Bullied Me So Badly That I Quit the Film Industry". xoJane. May 13, 2016. Retrieved May 14, 2016. 
  6. ^ Election at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Election at Metacritic
  8. ^ http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/election-1999
  9. ^ Jacobs, Matthew (7 May 2014). "Pick Flick: An Oral History Of 'Election,' 15 Years Later". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 26 October 2015. Barack Obama has told me twice that it’s his favorite political film. 

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