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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> May 1999 >> Election


Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Dates on Record:
May 1999, October 1999, June 2000
IMDB Name:
Election (1999)
Alexander Payne
MPAA Rating:
R for strong sexuality, sex-related dialogue and language, and a scene of drug use.

Simple Gifts

As much as I enjoy the special effects of movies like The Matrix and Dark City, I love watching a movie that doesn't need any of them to be engrossing and magical. Election is such a movie. I found myself smiling continuously from the first minute straight through to the end. I loved the characters, the writing, the acting, and even the directing. The material was good, and the performers made it exceptional.

The movie does make excellent use of two very ordinary effects: the freeze frame and the interesting camera angle. I've read that in selecting a picture for publication, you can make someone look idiotic by getting a picture in mid-word. This is called on repeatedly to allow voiceover plot exposition to proceed with something exceptionally funny to look at. I've also read that unusual camera angles indicate a lack of balance in the on-screen character's life. Here, turning the camera sideways is used to keep the faces upright even though the setup has shown the audience that the character is anything but. There is also the funny repeated use of crane shots to put things in perspective.

Pick Flick

Reese Witherspoon was excellent in Pleasantville as a naughty girl. Election features her as the ultra-perky overachiever Tracy Flick. Witherspoon throws herself into the role body and soul. Her movements and expressions are a constant delight to watch. I was impressed with the makeup and hair work that made her look so young. I was more impressed when a flashback scene required her to look even younger and did so successfully. I'm even more surprised to find out that Witherspoon was in her twenties already when she played the part.

The primary cast contains several newcomers to the big screen, but you wouldn't know it from watching them. Chris Klein and Jessica Campbell may not look much like siblings, but their performances are excellent. Klein's Paul is likably aloof and delightfully unsullied by the proceedings. In fact, the innocence in his voice when his character says some lewd things sells the character even more.


The soundtrack for the movie really suits the proceedings. The movie begins with a subtle tango, setting the mood to "tension" right away. Other dances permeate the soundtrack, giving the movie an extra kick in the pacing. Although composer Rolfe Kent makes frequent use of other materials, he always does so in a way that stands almost as a joke in itself, taking moments that are visually fairly funny and making them something really outrageous. His use of modulations is particularly devastating. I really wish I had the full credits in front of me so I could mention specific tracks, but you'll have to take my word for it until you get to see the movie for yourself.

Follow-up: Source Material

I went back and read the Tom Perrotta novel on which Election is based. I must say, it makes for fantastic reading. I blasted through it in less than four hours, but they were darn good hours! The novel gives more insight into several characters, including Lisa Flanagan and the Warren family (renamed Metzler for the movie). The movie and novel drift apart significantly near the end, especially with respect to Tammy's switch to Catholic school. I must say that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor made some fantastic changes in their adaptation, including fleshing out Jim Dexter into the much sillier Dave Novotny. They also fabricated some of the best parts out of whole cloth, like the bee sting. Ironically, they decided to make the character of Tracy less sexy than in the book, but they cast Reese Witherspoon. The contrast of the way a lot of characters then interact with Tracy is then that much funnier.

DVD Comments

For its simplicity, the DVD for Election isn't too bad. The commentary by Alexander Payne is almost worth the price of admission by itself. I do grow a bit weary of his use of the word "fecundity". I was similarly tired, after listening to the director commentary on the DVD for Rush Hour, of hearing Brett Ratner say "ghetto-fabulous". The one visual problem that I experienced is not likely to be exclusive to the DVD. The newspapers shown at the end feature halftoned pictures of Tracy and Jim. Both suffer from severe color bleed. This may resolve itself on higher- resolution displays.

See the IMDB information on Election's DVD or compare prices at DVD Price Search.

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Copyright 1999-2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.