Election (1999 film)

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Election 1999film.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Alexander Payne
Produced by Albert Berger
David Gale
Keith Samples
Ron Yerxa
Written 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
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 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 history, civics, and current events 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.

The film 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.

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 high school teacher in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is an over-zealous and overachieving junior. Earlier in the year, another teacher, Jim's best friend Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik), seduced Tracy, whose mother ultimately learned of the affair. As a result, Dave was fired from his job and divorced by his wife, Linda (Delaney Driscoll), while Tracy's reputation was unscathed.

Tracy announces that she is running for student body president. When Tracy presents her petition to Jim, she makes a remark about "working closely" together that Jim interprets as an indication she may try to seduce him. Annoyed by Tracy's presumptuousness and concerned that she will walk away with the election by running unopposed, Mr. McAllister tries to convince Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a kind-hearted and popular football player at the school who has been sidelined by a ski injury, to enter the race. Although Paul is initially ambivalent, Mr. McAllister ultimately prevails upon him to run.

Meanwhile, Paul's adopted younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is rejected by her romantic interest Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia), who rationalizes their time together as "experimenting." Lisa then engages in a passionate relationship with Paul. In retaliation, Tammy decides to run for president as well. During a school assembly to hear the candidate's speeches, after Tracy only draws polite applause and Paul receives enthusiastic cheers, Tammy announces that the school president is useless and declares that she will dissolve the student government if elected. The speech rallies the students to a standing ovation, but her subversive diatribe results in her being given a multi-day suspension from school.

While working on another project after school, Tracy has a fit of rage and destroys all of Paul's campaign posters, with her act of sabotage being observed by Tammy, when Tracy drove to a local power plant and disposes of the posters in a nearby dumpster during the night. The next day, when confronted by Jim, Tracy adamantly claims innocence. Tammy, holding the physical posters, then confesses to the act resulting in her being disqualified from the election and expelled from school, though Jim still suspects that the nervous Tracy was the real perpetrator.

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 spend more time together later that day (a proposition Jim himself had 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 great misfortune of being stung by a bee on his right eyelid, causing a 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 home 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 confident that their original vote count was accurate. Tracy is shocked and despondent upon hearing the unexpected news of her defeat. A day later, however, a school janitor (to whom Jim was rude earlier) discovers the two discarded ballots in the trash and presents them to the principal. Jim is confronted with the evidence of his fraudulent intervention and resigns.

Divorced and publicly humiliated, Jim leaves Nebraska, ultimately choosing to fulfill a longtime dream of moving to New York City, where he becomes a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History and begins a relationship with a new woman. Tracy gets accepted into Georgetown University, but finds the experience disappointing especially because she still cannot fit in. A happy-go-lucky Paul gets into the University of Nebraska, while Tammy becomes romantically involved with a fellow student at the all-girls Catholic school where her parents have enrolled her following her misconduct at public school. As the film closes, Jim is in Washington D.C. and sees Tracy enter a limousine with a congressman who she appears to work for as a member of his congressional staff. Enraged at the thought of Tracy, yet again, manipulating her way into political success, Jim hurls a milkshake at the limousine, then makes a quick getaway. The film ends with Jim posing questions to a group of schoolchildren who are visiting the museum, deliberately ignoring the raised hand of an overeager girl who reminds him of 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]


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 Subway restaurant.
  • 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 met with critical acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 92%, based on 104 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."[5] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5/4 stars, 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".[7]


  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. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/election/
  6. ^ http://www.metacritic.com/movie/election-1999
  7. ^ http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/election-1999

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