[box cover]


Were you starting to think that Matthew Broderick didn't have a film career anymore? So were we — and then we saw Election, perhaps the best comedy of 1999, and certainly among the finest of the decade. Coming off a string of underperforming films and a horrible case of high-profile miscasting (Godzilla) that failed to capitalize on his particular strengths as an actor, Broderick shows in Election that he can be one of Hollywood's best light-comic performers, given the right script and some smart direction. Broderick stars as Jim McAllister, a high school teacher in Omaha, Neb., who loves nothing more than being in the high school groove — teaching his civics class, supporting the sports programs, and acting as the faculty advisor to student government. But his milquetoast existence soon spirals out of control when Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) — an annoying, overachieving, self-important brainiac — launches her campaign for student body president without opposition. The abstract, instructive side of Jim's nature doesn't like Tracy's campaign, feeling that every election should have at least two candidates. But a more obscure part of him just doesn't like Tracy, who previously had an affair with his best friend Dave (Mark Harelik) that cost the guy both his teaching job and his marriage. Giving in to his baser instincts, Jim thus recruits bonehead campus jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run for president as well, which only makes Tracy more committed to winning. The premise of Election is simple but clever, and scenarist/director Alexander Payne probably could have set the film on autopilot after the first 20 minutes and come up with an entertaining jaunt. But Payne instead spins Election in a variety of unexpected directions, coming up with a film that continuously surprises the viewer with every subsequent scene. Broderick and Witherspoon perfectly play against each other, and their passive-aggressive power-struggle soon chips away at their few admirable qualities, revealing the troubled souls who reside within. Payne's direction is equally impressive, with many thoughtful touches that are both unusual and funny. Election is a film that consistently entertains, offering a few belly-laughs in the process. And yet, like all great comedies, it's also grounded in the fundamental pathos of its characters, reminiscent of many classic films from Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder — and frankly, that's the highest compliment this writer can think of. Good transfer, DD 5.1, commentary with Payne.

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