Long before Reese Witherspoon won her Oscar for 'Walk the Line' or indie film darling Alexander Payne won his for 'Sideways', the two collaborated on a little high school comedy produced by MTV Films that largely flew under the radar during its theatrical release back in 1999. Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta ('Little Children'), 'Election' is a biting satire of American politics as seen through the prism of a simple Student Council race. Although the studio attempted to market it as a broad slapstick farce, the film has a lot more going on beneath the surface than was apparent in the trailers.
In one of her early breakout roles, Witherspoon stars as the incessantly upbeat and optimistic Tracy Flick, a young go-getter determined to secure her path in life early. A top student and eager participant in all the right extracurricular activities, Tracy has decided that she needs a credit as Student Government President for her college transcripts. And what Tracy wants, Tracy gets -- at all costs. She may be utterly adorable in most respects, but there's no mistaking the steely resolve in her eyes. That smile permanently plastered on her face barely masks the psychosis behind it.
Playing against his iconic 'Ferris Bueller' high school slacker, Matthew Broderick is the Social Studies teacher Mr. McAllister, a well-intentioned and idealistic lifer who really wants to make a difference in these kids' lives. Despite his best efforts to remain positive and encouraging, McAllister can't help his growing dislike for Tracy. The girl really rubs him the wrong way. That might have something to do with the fact that she had an affair with his best friend and ultimately destroyed the man's career. Maybe just a little bit, anyway.
Unable to bear watching Tracy run unopposed for office, McAllister convinces a popular but oblivious jock (Chris Klein) to run against her. Tracy doesn't take well to competition, to put it lightly. The election soon turns into an all-out war between Tracy and her opponent, and by extension the man pulling his strings. When the race comes down to a photo finish, the teacher creates what might be termed a "voting irregularity," a decision that will have profound consequences for his life.
Witherspoon is simply marvelous as Tracy. She's cute-as-a-button, irritating, sympathetic, and downright evil all at once. Also surprisingly hilarious is Chris Klein as the good-natured dope who becomes McAllister's patsy. He's an actor of limited range, but Payne uses him just precisely right here. 'Election' is an incredibly sharply written satire with knowing observations about political motivations and actions that are just as relevant today as the year it was made. In fact, its prescient parallels to the real Presidential election in 2000 are almost eerie. Just substitute the disappearing ballots for some hanging chad. The movie is smart, funny, and (save for the really unflattering jeans that everyone wears) hasn't dated a bit over the last decade.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Not to be confused with the 2005 Hong Kong gangster film of the same name, the 1999 comedy 'Election' comes to Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment in a plain-Jane release lacking any notable bonus features. Even the cover art looks like a generic Photoshop rush job (that button and hand are strangely disconnected from the image behind them). That said, it's decidedly less weird than the original theatrical poster art, which featured a random blonde girl (clearly not Reese Witherspoon) swallowing a tiny Matthew Broderick head. That was just creepy.
The Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is very film-like in appearance, to both its benefit and (in some ways) detriment. The 2.35:1 picture may be a little soft and grainy, but fine object details are resolved with excellent definition and clarity, especially in clothing textures. That grain is well rendered without coming across as noisy or electronic. Colors are strong, and the image has no noticeable edge ringing, DNR, or other digital artifacts.
On the downside, the source elements exhibit a fair amount of dirt and speckling. The problem is never severe enough to override the transfer's positive attributes, but does recur regularly. Even so, the disc looks very natural and organic, and is quite pleasing overall.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.0 soundtrack is perfectly adequate in all respects, and no more. This is a very standard comedy mix, primarily focused on dialogue and almost never straying to the surround speakers. The track doesn't even have an LFE channel, so don't expect any big explosions here.
Dialogue is clear, and the music sounds good, except for one vintage Ennio Morricone track that's a little shrill. There's never a moment where the audio on the disc particularly impressed me, but by the same token it never particularly disappointed me either.
The old DVD edition released back in 2000 didn't have much in the way of supplemental content. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray follows that lead.
The 'Election' Blu-ray is a no-frills affair with good video, OK audio, and barely any bonus features. However, the movie remains a sharp and funny political satire, even a decade after its premiere. Recommended.