[Screen It]


(1999) (Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Extreme None Minor
Mild None None None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
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Extreme Minor Heavy Moderate Minor

Dark Comedy: A popular high school teacher's attempt to derail a peppy but annoying student's run for class president sets off a series of unexpected consequences.
Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is a popular teacher and student government advisor at Omaha, Nebraska's George Washington Carver High School. A twelve-year veteran and recipient of numerous "teacher of the year" awards, McAllister loves his job and helping educate the students.

That is, except for junior Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), an ambitious, perky and peppy overachiever whom McAllister can't stand and usually tries to ignore in class. After her affair with his best friend, Dave Novotny (MARK HARELIK), not only cost that fellow teacher his job and marriage to his wife Linda (DELANEY DRISCOLL), the fact that Tracy is running for student government president -- a position that would require close and constant contact with him -- drives McAllister crazy. McAllister hopes.

As such, he seeks out a contender to derail her currently unopposed campaign and finds Paul Metzler (CHRIS KLEIN). A popular and talented, but not particularly bright athlete whose broken leg from a skiing accident has left him with plenty of free time, Paul's initially reluctant and incredibly ill-suited for the position, but likes what McAllister tells him and decides to throw his hat into the ring.

His sister, sophomore Tammy (JESSICA CAMPBELL), an alienated outsider with lesbian tendencies, isn't happy with Paul, however, since her former "lover," Lisa Flanagan (FRANKIE INGRASSIA) spurned her and has become Paul's girlfriend. For revenge, Tammy decides to enter the campaign as the insurgent contender.

Meanwhile, and as these events quickly unfold, McAllister, who's been helping the now single Linda with household chores, becomes drawn to her despite being married to Diane (MOLLY HAGAN) who wants to get pregnant. With the election nearing and his attraction to Linda growing, McAllister begins to take actions that soon spin his life out of control and threaten everything he's worked so hard to accomplish.

If they're fans of Broderick and Witherspoon or because the film is set in high school, they might, but then again few went to see the similarly set and satirical "Rushmore."
For strong sexuality, sex-related dialogue and language, and a scene of drug use.
  • MATTHEW BRODERICK plays a popular high school teacher and husband who goes bad when he tries to undermine -- in various ways -- a student's run to become president of the school's government. He also has an affair and uses heavy profanity.
  • REESE WITHERSPOON plays an overzealous student whose attempts to be involved in everything essentially alienates her from everyone else.
  • CHRIS KLEIN plays a popular high school athlete who's convinced to run against Tracy by McAllister. He does have sexual relations with Lisa.
  • JESSICA CAMPBELL plays his sister who's a lesbian (although she denies that) and constant outsider who runs for the presidency out of spite, encourages students not to vote, and smokes a joint with another girl.
  • MARK HARELIK plays a married teacher who has an affair with Tracy.
  • MOLLY HAGAN plays Jim's wife who wants to get pregnant and then kicks him out of the house after the affair.
  • DELANEY DRISCOLL plays a single mother who has an affair despite having recently kicked her husband out for doing the same.
  • FRANKIE INGRASSIA plays a student who experiments with lesbianism with Tammy and then has a sexual relationship with Paul to spite Tammy.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    In 1986, Matthew Broderick played a mischievous student whose motto was to "live each day to its fullest" while making the life of his principal -- Mr. Rooney, a man determined to catch and stop Ferris' shenanigans -- a living hell in the charming and offbeat comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

    As good an example as one can get for the old sayings, "What goes around, comes around" and "Turnabout is fair play," Broderick now plays the tormented school "grownup" on the other side of the school desk in "Election," another unique but decidedly more adult comedy about ambition, morals and dastardly deeds that occur in a fictitious Nebraska high school.

    An estranged cousin to last year's similarly satirical and quirky "Rushmore," this film marks the sophomore directorial effort of Alexander Payne. Like his earlier work, 1996's little seen but critically lauded "Citizen Ruth" -- which focused on sensitive subject matter such as abortion and inhalant use and abuse -- Payne doesn't stray far from controversy as this one features teacher/student sex, lesbianism, adulterous behavior and schemingly corrupt teachers.

    Working from a script he coauthored with Jim Taylor ("Citizen Ruth") which they based on a novel by Tom Perrotta (itself partially inspired by the 1992 three-way Presidential campaign), Payne's film uses such material for comic effect, and while it's irreverent and dark, it's not quite charred enough to be considered truly blackened.

    Although nothing outrageously hilarious ever transpires during its one hundred or so minute runtime, the film is constantly filled with all sorts of offbeat and witty humor -- some of it quite sharp -- that not only keeps the film interesting, but also makes the less than savory subject matter a bit more palatable.

    What really makes the film work so well, however, is the director's unique approach in telling the story. While the use of multiple voice-over narration from various characters is relatively unusual (although "The Thin Red Line" unraveled partly due to that), it's fortunately not too horribly bothersome or distracting. Although we still think it's a cheap and easy way to impart necessary exposition, it's somewhat acceptable considering the film's nature.

    A much more effective tool in Payne's directorial arsenal, however, is his clever and inventive use of camera techniques, including a series of freeze-frame images during which one character describes their feelings for another. With the subject's expression usually frozen in an unflattering or awkward look, the technique -- often hilariously used on the pretty and peppy Tracy -- is put to good use.

    The same holds true for composer Rolfe Kent's ("Citizen Ruth," "The Theory of Flight") fun and lively score that's as much a character as any of the flesh and blood ones. Mostly used as signature pieces to differentiate the characters thematically, the best bits of the score include comically bloodcurdling warrior cries and chanting that play whenever Tracy gets really steamed or mad at someone. The effect is priceless and one of the better moments in the film.

    Like the critically lauded "Rushmore," the film works not only due to the outlandish setup and involved characters, but also because of the wonderfully comic performances. As such, Matthew Broderick ("Glory," "Addicted to Love") is quite good in a role that initially starts out like those in nearly any other comedy piece in which he's appeared.

    That doesn't last long, however, and while the "Ferris Bueller" role-reversal connection adds a hilarious touch of irony to his performance (where he even begins to resemble the defeated and disheveled Jeffrey Jones from that earlier film), its fun to see Broderick go over to the "dark side" for a change.

    Reese Witherspoon ("Pleasantville," "Cruel Intentions") is also quite good as the perky overachiever and generally annoying go-getter. While perhaps a bit too stereotypical in her portrayal of the character, the effect is intentionally done for humor's sake and it works quite well. It's also interesting that while we initially don't like her character -- by the default setup -- she turns out not to be the true villain.

    Supporting performances are strong across the board from the other cast members. In two nicely tuned comedic takes, Chris Klein and Jessica Campbell not only make their feature film debuts, but also create some memorable comic characters. That's particularly true for Klein who -- when not delivering a monotone speech filled with nothing but run-on sentences -- bears a striking physical and acting resemblance to Keanu Reeves (who kick-started his career also playing a good-looking, air-head student). Party on, dude!

    While we could have done without so much voice over narration -- unless, of course, had the dialogue been brimming with funny material as in the upcoming Australian comedy, "The Castle" -- and the plot might have been more fun had the main characters been a bit more involved in actively scheming against the others, overall the film is a fun and decidedly offbeat comedy.

    Although it goes on a bit too long after the main resolution and you probably won't bust a gut from laughing really hard at any given moment, as long as you don't mind the more adult look at high school life, you'll probably get a kick out of this near constantly amusing film. We did, and thus give "Election" our vote with a 7 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this dark, R-rated comedy. The Sex/Nudity category ranks as extreme due to several scenes that feature sexual activity (one being a porno tape seen on a TV) that include plenty of movement and sounds, but no explicit nudity, heavily suggested oral sex, and some lesbian activity (limited to kissing and caressing). Other sexually related talk (about or during such encounters) also occurs and a mural/exhibit clearly shows a prehistoric man's genitals and a similar woman's breasts.

    Profanity is extreme with at least 14 "f" words being uttered during the film along with other words and colorful phrases. Some drinking occurs, and in one scene two students share a joint. The film is filled with people with bad attitudes, some of which involve extramarital affairs (including a student/teacher relationship) and a teacher's attempts to derail a student's campaign, along with other disrespectful behavior.

    Beyond all of that, the film's remaining categories have little or no major objectionable content. Since teens may want to see this film, however, and should you still be concerned about its appropriateness for them or anyone in your home, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • McAllister ices down some champagne in a motel room.
  • Tammy's father has a drink.
  • McAllister briefly drinks a beer.
  • Students drink beer at a post graduation party.
  • Tammy and another girl share and smoke a joint.
  • We see some college students drinking in a dorm hallway.
  • We see urine in two cups after Tammy and Lisa eat asparagus and time how long it takes for their "pee to smell funny."
  • We see some bloody cuts/scrapes on Tracy's hands after she goes on a rampage and tears down her competitors' posters.
  • McAllister's eye nearly swells shut and turns colors after he's been stung by a bee.
  • We see McAllister urinating on a tree (and see the stream).
  • McAllister has both for not only attempting to sabotage Tracy's campaign -- in various ways including altering election results -- but also for having an affair.
  • Dave, who's married with a small child, has an affair with Tracy and falls in love with her.
  • Tracy carries on with that affair, but is also an annoying overachiever and thinks that McAllister has a boring and bad job and must be jealous of the students who have promising and more interesting futures ahead of them.
  • Male students are mean to Tracy, telling or interrupting her with the phrases "eat me" or "eat me raw." They're also mean to Tammy and heckle her when she tries to make a speech.
  • Some viewers may be offended by the film having some of the characters praying to God to alter the outcome of the pending election, etc... (such as when Tammy says that she doesn't believe in God, but prays to Him anyway since she'll now be going to a Catholic school and she might as well get in the practice. In addition, in his bedtime prayers, Paul thanks God for many things, including what he's been told is "a large penis").
  • To get revenge on Tammy wanting her to be a lesbian (after both experimented with that orientation), Lisa then has sex with Paul and becomes his boyfriend.
  • After Tammy has delivered an anti-vote speech at a student assembly, the principal refers to her as a "bitch." Tracy later does the same.
  • In a moment of frustrated rage, Tracy tears down her competitors' campaign posters and later lies saying she didn't do it.
  • None.
  • Toy Pistols: Briefly used by McAllister during a school production where he's acting like a cowboy.
  • Phrases: "Blowing" (sexual), "Dumb sh*t," "Eat me," "Eat me raw," "Dyke," "Bitch" (said twice about Tammy), "Nuts" (crazy), "Bitchin',' and "Sucked."
  • Tammy and Lisa eat asparagus and time how long it takes for their "pee to smell funny."
  • We see McAllister urinating on a tree (and see the stream).
  • A student spits on McAllister's car window (after learning what McAllister has done) and McAllister later throws his soft drink and cup onto the back of a limo and then runs away.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 14 "f" words (8 used sexually), 2 "s" words, 2 slang terms for female genitals ("p*ssy" and "c*nt"), 2 hells, 1 ass (used with "hole"), 1 damn and 4 uses of "Oh God" and 1 use each of "God" and "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • Talking about Tracy, Dave tells McAllister, "Her p*ssy gets so wet, you can't believe it." As such, Jim doesn't want to hear this and thinks Dave is wrong to being carrying on an affair with a student. All we see of this, however, is Dave and Tracy kissing in a darkroom, although McAllister asks, "You did it in your house?"
  • As McAllister retrieves a porno tape to watch, we see the covers of several porno magazines he has hidden in a trunk. We then see clips from the tape he's watching, where a cheerleader tells a football player that she'll be his "tight end." We then see that player having sex with her from behind as she bends over and we see the top part of her bare breasts (along with movement and hearing related sounds).
  • We see Tammy and Lisa lying on the former's bed, caressing and kissing each other (both are clothed), but Lisa then breaks off their lesbian experimentation. In voice-over, Tammy explains that she's not a lesbian, but that everyone she's ever been attracted to just so happens to have been female.
  • As we see Paul's pleasured facial expression and hear him explain that he was surprised when Lisa asked for a ride home, we then see her at his crotch performing oral sex with head movement (seen from behind her). In voice over, Paul explains that every day after school they'd go to her house "to f*ck and have a hot tub." We then see Tammy spying on them and see them in the hot tub with her apparently on his lap and the two kissing.
  • As McAllister stares at Linda's jeans-clad butt, the camera focuses in on it as well. Later, the same holds true regarding her cleavage.
  • From an odd sideways angle we see Jim and Diane having sex (trying to get her pregnant) with her saying, "Are you going to do it? Just do it. Fill me up." While we see movement, hear sounds and see his climaxing reaction, we don't see any nudity or graphic sex (since we only see them from his back and up). When they're done she tells him, "Good job."
  • We then see Jim having sex with Diane from behind her (with sounds and seen by alternating shots focusing just on him and then on her back and the back of her head as she lies face down). As they continue, Jim then imagines seeing Linda's and then Tracy's face superimposed over the back of his wife's head and telling him things like, "Just like that. Oh yeah. Fill me up. God. Do it Jim, f*ck me." "F*ck me, f*ck me, f*ck me hard, Mr. McAllister...f*ck me harder."
  • We see Jim and Linda kissing and rolling around on her floor (both are clothed, she in her robe) as they get ready to have an affair. As he leaves, she then says that she wants to go to a hotel room when he gets off work.
  • In his bedtime prayers, Paul thanks God for many things, including what he's been told is "a large penis."
  • It's suggested that Tammy has entered into a lesbian relationship with a fellow student at her new Catholic school.
  • In a museum mural/display, we see two statues of primitive human/ape-like beings and twice clearly see the male's penis and the female's bare breasts.
  • Tammy smokes once and an imagined scene shows McAllister smoking.
  • Dave, who's married with a small child, has an affair with Tracy and falls in love with her. This causes his wife to kick him out of their home and file for a divorce.
  • Jim's affair causes his wife to kick him out.
  • The behavior of the characters and the resulting consequences that occur.
  • Student/teacher relationships.
  • Adultery.
  • Lesbianism.
  • The fact that Tammy's statement urging her classmates not to vote and that if she wins she'll dismantle the student government received the most applause and support at a student assembly.
  • Tracy tears down and rips up her opponent's campaign posters.

  • Reviewed May 4, 1999 / Posted May 7, 1999

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