Election (1999)

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 05/11/99 05:56:14

"MTv produces something not embarassing to thinking people"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Surprisingly sophisticated and complex for what could have been a lighthearted rock driven lifestyle advertisement for the adolescent eMpTyV set. Late 20, early 30 somethings will relate to this film as readily as the teen audience.

The ridiculousness and complexity of both adulthood and adolescence are played with in this funny, convincing movie.

An overachieving high school student (Reese Witherspoon) runs into a Social Studies teacher (Matthew Broderick) who is determined to bring her back down to earth.

The film relies on some tried and true stereotypes, like the dumb jock, the image-oriented, success-obsessed overachiever , and the disaffected homosexual adolescent. but the characters are well-rounded and instead of seeing just the stereotype, the characters are fleshed out and the high school characters are tempered with that limited insight that makes them seem like real high school students. MTv knows what teenagers actually experience. The characters are more "john hughes-esque" in that regard. They are dealing with adult issues, and understanding their importance, but their scope of experiencing or understanding and making sense of those issues is somewhat limited.

Even the way adolescent homosexuality was treated showed sensitivity and insight, but was still framed with the adolescent approach to love and relationships. It was like every other high school crush, love of your life, confusion, the only one in the world, forever and ever kind of thing. I was glad they didn't show the gay character as tragic or lonely or different or unacceptable. And she steals part of the movie with her speech about teen apathy and the pointlessness of student government.

The adults in this film were portrayed in a somewhat simplistic way. The situations they find themselves hinted at the adult equivalent of adolescent relationship issues. Such as "you cheated on me with my best friend". The adults in this movie are not shown making any effort to deal with these kinds of problems. The solution to infidelity or transgression in the adult world, it seems, is to shut the door and walk away. The men are the offenders in this film. They lapse in judgement and have to pay the price by literally being exiled from their families, their jobs and their hometowns.

Its like when the girl breaks up with the boy, but the boy and the girl have all the same friends and the friends "side" with the girl so the boy has to go off and start all over again.

Election is masterful, even if unintended, at reflecting adolescence and adulthood off each other. Some of the more fun parts are the cliche' responses by adults in authority to youth "insubordination".
A young, rock music audience, and their older forebears in the arena of youthful rebellion and social consciousness will instantly recognize the irony and the implied mockery of the these scenes. The film reinforces the attitude that a healthy disrespect for beurocratic authority is a good thing.

The characters were drawn with simple motivations that existed purely in the space of the script and only rarely did you get a glimpse of the larger implications of a character spread out over the time before the script and after but those glimpses were enough to let the audience fill in the story about a character.

The camp element adds the kind of color and caricature you come to expect from John Waters with just enough verisimilitude to keep the audience from missing some of the important social commentary woven underneath the plot, much like Water's recent "Pecker".

Election is multi-dimensional enough to "discover" the characters outside the scope of the script without patronizing your ability to do so by leading you to the proverbial well and wondering if you'll drink. The film suggest that there is water elsewhere and you are sure to find it if you are thirsty.

As an added bonus, the film has plenty of universally experienced situations and vicariously satisfying responses to them.

The sex in this film is dealt with in a more European way than the prudish, American of Victorian influence, manner, that is typical of an (especially young) American audience. The Teen Film grows up. And with it, the rest of America.

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