Election | Alexander Payne, 1999
Tom Perrota’s novel “Election,” which is the basis of this movie, is one of my favorite books of all time. Not only was it the first sexually charged novel that I had read, but it is all filled with beautiful prose, biting satire, and hilarious situations. When I finished it, I came to the conclusion that it was unfilmable, although it had already been turned into a critically acclaimed movie from legendary director Alexander Payne. Why I came to that conclusion? I don’t know. there is just something about the words, a certain mood that they create, that I feel could not be translated to the screen. And, it turns out, that I was right for the most part.
Election takes place in Carver High School in Omaha, Nebraska. It is SGA election time, and Tracy Flick (Resse Witherspoon) is getting her campaign ready early to get an easy win. However, this does not sit well with Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick), as Tracy has a history of doing just about everything to get what she wants. So, he recruits Paul Metzler (Chris Kline), an injured jock to run against her. Then Paul’s sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), joins the race after the girl she is in love with leaver her to be with Paul. Meanwhile, Mr.McAllister is having problems at home while trying to have a baby, lusts after Tracy and his friend’s ex-wife, and well, wants to ruin Tracy’s life.
In terms of adapting the novel. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor did an okay job. They reduced the story enough to make a perfectly fine movie, and they kept the narration, which was the most important part of the novel. The dialogue is sharp, and the satire is still there. In other words, they did they best they could possibly do. So, my biggest complain comes from the direction.
Alexander Payne is a great director, he just wasn’t the best choice to make the movie. His realistic take on the story, with brief moments of style, just didn’t feel right, at least to me. When I was reading the book, I pictured it as being set in a more colorful and stylish world. Here everything just seems gloomy and rather depressing.
With that said, he does get good performances out of his actors. Matthew Broderick gives his best performance, Reese Witherspoon is outstanding and should have been nominated for an Oscar. Chris Kline is a horrible actor, but his non-acting fits here perfectly.
Election could have been a much better movie, but since it is unlikely that we will see this book be adapted again, it is a fine representation of the great book.