Election (1999)
November 3, 2014 9:59 PM - Subscribe

THE SPIRIT OF 99 - a high school student rigs an election, and all hell breaks loose

DID EBERT LIKE IT? "a wicked satire about an election for student government president"

The original downer ending

The metafilter thread about it.

The Trailer

THE BEST: How naked and humane Tracey is. She really thinks she can get ahead following a GameFAQ.

THE WORST: That whole aborted love interest subplot. It just takes up time
posted by The Whelk (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I think Mr. McAllister needed his life to be falling apart in some way to provide the basis for his behavior towards Tracy. I don't know that when he wrote the script Payne could have predicted the fortuitous casting and energy of Witherspoon in this role (I guess he wanted her for it, but she wanted to play Tammy (!)). And while I think Broderick is mostly fine in the role there's a distinct energy imbalance in the film as a result.
posted by dhartung at 11:41 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Additionally, if he just got caught rigging a school election, he'd still have his wife to go home to. Simultaneously destroying his marriage by pursuing Linda makes Mr. McAllister's self-immolation all the more complete and hilarious. By the end of the movie, he's got nothing, and it's entirely his own fault.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:18 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It would have been so easy to play Tracey as the villain but she's so sympathetic. It would have been so easy to protray her as a Patrick Bateman-y sociopath but she's more like someone who deliberate gave up on being human in order to be ambitious. Not that she's not a villain, but there's this core of loneliness in her - I guess the horror of the movie is realizing she's going to pave over that too in her intense drive to be less human.

Also I enjoy the idea that this is a sequel to Ferris Bueller.
posted by The Whelk at 6:18 AM on November 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

Not that she's not a villain, but there's this core of loneliness in her

And her mom (Yvette from Clue!) not only sees this but encourages it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:20 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for that link to the alternate ending! Election was one of my favorite movies growing up and I had no idea that existed.

Like others said, the Linda subplot works by providing more context to his life's falling apart, but I agree it takes away from the momentum of the story.
posted by papafrita at 6:38 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

As I was in High School when this came out and was an overachieving teacher-pleaser, I really can't see Tracey as a villian in the way the movie wants you to. She gets shit done! Sure she's got a creepy Ayn Randian philosophy but maybe it works! I think the underlying message is that in order to get ahead you have to be this creepy kind of ambitious inhuman and the system rewards that behavior but ...I kinda of want to hang out with Tracey.
posted by The Whelk at 6:44 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tracey's very much a sort of designated villain- she's actually the victim in everything but her tantrum. She's preyed upon by Dave Novotny, ignored and looked down on by her peers, and campaigned against and cheated by Jim McAllister. She's only a villain because our primary viewpoint character is one of her self-justifying victimizers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:54 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'm less inclined to see Tracey as a villain but more seeing Mr. Mcallister as a complete putz.
posted by The Whelk at 7:06 AM on November 4, 2014

Tracy Flick isn't a villian, but she is definitely a Slytherin.
posted by almostmanda at 7:20 AM on November 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I associate this movie with Rushmore. Obviously both high school movies about misfit students and equally misfit adults messing up their lives in weird ways.

But the key difference for me is that Rushmore maintains an affection for its characters. It knows we've all been there - or at least somewhere from where we can see there. And it invites us to empathize with the Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray characters. I don't get that from Election. What I get from Election is more, "These are pathetic people who deserve everything that happens to them. Let's point and laugh at their misery." I still like the film, but I don't really like myself for liking the film...
posted by Naberius at 7:58 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The scene of Jessica Campbell skipping through the Old Market and the Omaha Zoo with her new girlfriend as "Jennifer Juniper" plays is about as joyous a moment of filmmaking as I think Alexander Payne has ever produced.
posted by maxsparber at 8:06 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wow, I'm totally floored that people see Tracy as a villain. Count me as another former teen high-achieving girl (though definitely not ambitious or Type A enough to be Flick-ish) but I never saw her as the villain. She's annoying as shit, yeah, but not a villain.

I always thought the point of the film is that the main/POV character sees her as the villain, but through that we see how both pathetic and monstrous he is. I mean, he's so transparently misogynistic and petty, from the way he blames her for her affair with the fellow teacher to the fact that he somehow decides that she needs to be stopped basically because he finds her threatening.

I think the movie does a better job with this than the book. The book is entertaining, but Tom Perotta is so cynical - Alexander Payne is a lot more affectionate towards his imperfect, vulnerable characters.
posted by lunasol at 10:40 AM on November 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Tracy didn't rig the election. The teacher did.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Never saw Tracy as the villain either and thought that was one of the keys to why this movie was so compelling. I had quite a bit of compassion for her, even as I had compassion for the rest of the movie's cast of idiots with limited ambition with whom she was trapped in high school.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2014

Yeah I never got the feeling anyone was being laughed at or talked down to - no one comes out looking particularly good, all of Tracey's successes pale in the face of her loneliness and single-minded drive. Sure she's annoying but Mr. MacAllister is straight up *mean* in a completely petty way.
posted by The Whelk at 11:17 AM on November 4, 2014

(Of course watching it now is like watching Elizabeth Moss get all her facial tics in the early Mad Men seasons)
posted by The Whelk at 11:18 AM on November 4, 2014

I thought her mom's comment along the lines of "oh maybe you just needed more posters, or if you had just taken my advice about your speech..." was just heartbreaking.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:32 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah her mom doesn't get a lot of screentime but you can read an entire childhood of this stuff happening in a few lines.
posted by The Whelk at 11:33 AM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't know about being a complete villain, but people like Tracey seem to stir up a sense of high school based antagonism in me. High school me would think how everyone in high school lived in this distorted and weird environment, where everything was done to get into a good college. And I hated that pressure and hated how your worth as a person was distilled down to grades and achievements. To high school me, people like Tracey were the product of this system and deserved to be taken down a peg.

Of course, I don't think like that anymore. But the movie does capture very well how someone sitting at the back of the class, intentionally underachieving would feel.
posted by FJT at 4:05 PM on November 4, 2014

I really like this movie, but it's one I can only watch every few years or so.

I'm just glad we're talking about fictional characters here, and not "Nixon: The Teen Years" or "Growing Up Palin."
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 5:41 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think she's a Bateman-like sociopath, of course, but I do think Payne intends that we see her ambition as soulless -- or perhaps that's all setup for the discarded ending, where we see her modest familial circumstances as a motivation. (I think the whole "I'm here to buy a car for college" sets up that recognition.) It's the only way she can get herself unstuck, and for him, it's too late.

Vs. Rushmore, well, there's a world of difference between how Payne and Anderson approach their characters, even if there are elements of caricature in how both construct and present them. I've recently caught myself up with all of his major earlier films, including About Schmidt and Citizen Ruth, but I still have to see Nebraska. He's really concerned with this question of our life choices limiting our options at various points and how desperately we might act in order to change that. He's developed much more warmth in later films like Sideways and The Descendants, though, so while I think that empathy was always there, the bits of satirical outlook that bleed through are less visible.

To high school me, people like Tracey were the product of this system and deserved to be taken down a peg.

It does depend on your school's culture, though. I found it odd that while Tracy won the election, she wasn't really popular in the way that I resented the popular kids who won offices and honors in my high school (which I left for college a year early, TBH). It's only now as an adult that I've processed some of that experience and come to a more accepting view.
posted by dhartung at 5:50 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well Nixon maybe, but I always thought the pathos of Tracey Flick wasn't just that she's loney and weird, but that she's clearly smarter than anyone else in town but is pouring it into this twisted ambition while also being completely unappreciated by her peers. Like imagine if she actually had good teachers or like minded peers or a healthy way to deal with all that focus and drive to win. Her ambition isn't tempered with mercy or empathy cause literally no one in town has those qualities. Yeah, Flick is an annoying over-ambitious weirdo but look where she came from.
posted by The Whelk at 5:52 PM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

And yeah I also went to a very competitive, academics-oriented school. Being an over-achieving do-gooder was the path to being cool.
posted by The Whelk at 5:54 PM on November 4, 2014

It does depend on your school's culture, though. I found it odd that while Tracy won the election, she wasn't really popular in the way that I resented the popular kids who won offices and honors in my high school

School culture definitely determines this. My high school was very competitive as well, with the added bonus of being mostly Asian-American kids, so there was also some "model minority" and "tiger parenting" going on. Which does remind me, I've been recommended to watch Better Luck Tomorrow for years now, but have actually never got around to it.

And, I just noticed an odd link between Election and Better Luck Tomorrow. I mean, they're both produced by MTV films, but both trailers say "Never underestimate an overachiever". Election does it here, while BLT does it here. Same person cut both trailers, I guess?
posted by FJT at 7:58 PM on November 4, 2014

For the farce fans, the Election was literally between a try-hard ambitious schemer and a rich but dim popular kid who got press-ganged into it by an outside influence and a stunty 3rd party that can never win.

I keep thinking about Mr McAllister saying "doing whatever it takes to win and stepping on people to do so ..is wrong" But does the universe Tracy's in support that? It seems like dong whatever it takes is what makes you a WINNER and the people trying to stop you are sad lonely duds. Shit of course Tracy needs an out from this place.
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 PM on November 4, 2014

What I remember was that Tracy had a wall full of pictures of successful women in politics, and they were all Republicans and conservatives. Mr. McAllister believed in politicians as moral self-sacrificers serving the public good, and put his support behind someone so self-sacrificing that he wouldn't vote for himself. Tracy, on the other hand, sees political activity as a platform for personal success, high achievement, and getting ahead. Of course, high school is a pretty ridiculous place to look for social progress via government, but Mr. M. seemed like he had chosen to avoid adulthood which meant he had to consider high school the stage for his life's goals. (He's not as bad a case of arrested development as his defrocked buddy, at least.) The final scene in the original movie, shows just where that Civics-class naïveté ends up in the face of ambition: a powerless schlub ineffectually throwing a milkshake at a senator's car.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:08 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

All I know is that one night my parents called my house (which I bought straight out of liberal arts grad school, the grad school I'd told my high school boyfriend would necessarily delay our marriage when he asked me to marry him during a matinee of Naked Lunch--I mean COME ON, Burroughs is hardly poster boy for marital bliss, sir--time and place! Time and place! And anyway, who the hell buys a house when they're 22 these days?); they were laughing so hard they couldn't breathe.

"It's..." *snuffle* "YOU!" *gasping for air*

"What the hell are you talking about, Ma? What?"

[this goes on for some time]

Finally my dad grabs the phone: "We're watching a movie *snort* and REESE WITHERSPOON IS PLAYING YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL!!!"

[both parents collapse in hysterical laughter]

This is what happens when fucking hippies raise overachievers. I call it "Alex P. Keatonitis. " I went out and rented the movie. Ummmmm. Not sure how to take the comparison, really.

I'm glad I've gotten terrifically slacker-y by my former standards over the years. No one wants to be T. Flick.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:25 PM on November 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Crap. I've totally told that story before, in one of the linked threads. I've been on Metafilter so long I'm repeating my own stories! *shakes cane at sky*
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:28 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every time I see it, I crack up. Even when I just *think* about it, I have to work to keep from losing my shit.
posted by rocketman at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2014

Tracy Flick = Hillary
Tammy Metzler = Bernie
Paul Metzler = Trump
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2016

Nah, Tammy won her election...
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:44 AM on June 12, 2016

Tom Perotta has a sequel book, Tracy Flick Can't Win (review, interview where he talks a little about Rebecca Traister and A.O. Scott (I'll add Maureen O'Connor and Megan Garber to that list) writing about Tracy Flick).
posted by box at 10:27 AM on June 7, 2022

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