Everyone knows that one overachiever in high school that rubbed people the wrong way. It wasn’t because they were smarter or awkward or weird, and, in some cases, it was just jealousy. But there were times that it was because they were just way too smug about being that overachiever.
That is the core of Election.
The 1999 adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel starred Reese Witherspoon as her school’s most prominent overachiever. She is out to win the coveted seat of student body president. And Matthew Broderick is the teacher out to stop her.
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Early in the school year, Tracy, Witherspoon’s character, had an affair with one of her teachers, destroying his career and his family. Fuelled by ruthless ambition, she tends to roll over anyone in her way. Broderick’s Jim McAllister is the school’s civic teacher. Well aware of Tracy’s tendencies, he sets out to vindictively defeat her by conscripting the school’s star quarterback, played by Chris Klein, to run against her.
As much as this is a story about Tracy’s ambitions and the people that get hurt along the way, it is also about the self-destruction of the teacher played by Broderick. Accurately or not, he harbours serious resentment towards Tracy for her part in the ruination of his fellow teacher, an incident she cleanly walked away from when he believes she shouldn’t have. His single-minded devotion to the goal of exacting his revenge on her is as destructive to his life as his friend’s affair with Tracy was.
McAllister’s preoccupation with Tracy masks his dissatisfaction with his own suburban drudgery. Even though he is one of the more popular teachers, McAllister’s career no longer interests him and his marriage is falling apart. His fixation on Tracy is a distraction from that, eventually blossoming into a full on obsession.
While McAllister attempts to rationalize his actions throughout the film by using Tracy’s actions as justification, and she is definitely no saint, he is purely the source of his own self-destruction.
If you ask yourself who is the hero and who is the villain in this story between Tracy and McAllister, the answer could easily be both or neither. Each of them is victim in this story while both of them are also victimizers, though McAllister and Tracy do come out ahead in the end in their own ways.
Unfortunately, other students like Chris Klein’s football star and his sister are dragged into the mess left in the path behind McAllister/Tracy’s feud. Few characters get out of this story unscathed.
Election is an insightful, engaging story that gives a unique perspective on the drama of high school without losing any of its wit or irreverent sensibilities.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at@ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.
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