Who'd have thought Ferris Bueller would end up as a teacher? It's not clear whether it was a deliberate twist of casting, but using Matthew Broderick in the role of shabby-yet-conscientious tutor Mr McAllister gives high-school satire Election an odd sense of familiarity. Of course, McAllister is nothing like Ferris - - everyone's fave '80s skiver would never have gone within spitting distance of a teaching college. But, in terms of Broderick films, they are comparable, both boasting impressive turns from the hit-and-miss actor.
McAllister is a well-meaning type who accidentally sets off along the road to Hell - - you know, the one paved with good intentions. Broderick accentuates every one of the teacher's flaws (lust, arrogance, wearing brown clothes) without overplaying the pathetic card, and - - despite his gross errors of judgement - - you sympathise with this realistically vulnerable character.
But Election isn't purely Broderick's movie. Another slap-in-the-face performance comes courtesy of Cruel Intentions/Pleasantville starlet Reese Witherspoon. Deftly dodging the blonde sex-interest tag, her anally prim, well-to-do good girl is all bobby socks and severe hairdos on the outside, sly, scheming bitch on the inside. Yet, while you side against her candidacy, you can't help feeling some warmth for Tracy. She is, after all, only a hardworking teenager chasing her dream.
Writer-director Payne employs a multi-perspective voiceover structure (à la GoodFellas) to great effect, and wisely keeps the comedy as black and as painful as possible. He handles the several unexpected twists and turns well but does drag the ending out a little, with the narrative rushing around to tie up all the loose ends. Fans of last month's Rushmore should prepare for another thoroughly enjoyable, anti-high-school flick.
A viciously perceptive comedy about ambition, education, democracy and the American Dream. The humour is dry, subtle and intellectually satisfying, while Broderick and Witherspoon are perfectly cast as the warring teacher and pupil.