#90. Election (1999)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (based on Election by Tom Perrotta)
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell
It was difficult for me to narrow down which of Alexander Payne’s films to include on my top 100 list, as any of them could have made the cut with a wider field. I ended up choosing Payne’s 1999 adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel Election, as I feel it perfectly represents the best aspects of all of his films. Election stars Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon as a teacher and student with an odd relationship. When Witherspoon’s insufferable know-it-all Tracy Flick decides to run for student council president, Broderick’s Jim McCallister decides to shut her down by any means possible. McCallister encourages a brother-sister pair to run against Flick, throwing the election into controlled chaos. At the same time, the well-respected McCallister’s life begins to fall apart around him. Alexander Payne’s Election is intelligent, laugh out loud funny, and deals with pretty despicable characters in a very real and down to earth way. Matthew Broderick’s Jim McCallister goes through a full cycle through the film, going from a lovable and respected nice guy to a much maligned scumbag, all at the hands of Reese Witherspoon’s delightfully snotty Tracy Flick. The two actors absolutely steal the show with their chemistry, bringing excellent comedic performances out of two less than stellar performers. Payne wrote the film’s darkly witty script with frequent collaborator Jim Taylor – the two would earn their first of three nominations together for the film’s writing. Election may not be quite as funny as Nebraska or About Schmidt, as insightful as Sideways or Citizen Ruth, or as touching as The Descendants, but it’s the one Alexander Payne film I find myself coming back to over and over again.