While Reese Witherspoon has gained fame for the "Legally Blonde" films, I don't think she's ever created quite as memorable a character as Tracy Flick, the type-A overachiever in 1999's "Election", look at high school politics from "Sideways" director Alexander Payne.
The film takes place at an average high school in an average small town in the suburbs. In a school where most of the kids are drifting through their days, Flick is brutally ambitious, and while she's achieved her goals academically, she's got no friends. She also has no one running against her when she decides to run for President of her class, which doesn't sit well with U.S. history and civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick.) While another teacher may not have questioned the lack of participation in the election, McAllister has become a little tired of Flick's ambition and the bitter attitude that lies underneath her sunny exterior.
McAllister pulls Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) - the school's popular football star, suffering from an injury - off the bench and into politics, putting him up against Flick, as he figures he's a strong contender. When TracyHowever, things don't go exactly as planned: Paul can't manage to pull off much of a campaign and his sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell) decides to enter the election partially because Paul took her girlfriend.
"Election" is a surprisingly pitch-black comedy and smart satire, certainly a more realistic look at high school (at least in some regards) than the poppy, predictable teen comedies that came out around the same time. The characters are all flawed to some degree, none of them willing to admit that they're either seeking the acceptance they haven't found or are painfully lonely or both. Payne's film (co-written with frequent collaborator Jim Taylor) is terrific in many ways, but the film's ability to mix laughs with moments of sorrow remains impressive. Additionally,
The performances are also terrific, although Witherspoon steals the show as Flick, who takes being a know-it-all to near-meltdown intensity. Broderick is also superb as the teacher who lets things get out of hand when he decides that it's time to topple Tracy's chances. The film's ending, watching the characters start over elsewhere, isn't entirely happy, but certainly feels like a right and appropriate way to tie up the story.
Overall, "Election" still stands up quite well, with Broderick and Witherspoon's lead performance's doing a fine job carrying this unique teen (although it's almost more for adults) film.
VIDEO: "Election" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC), and the results are somewhat disappointing. The film has just about reached its 10th birthday, but it looks a little older than its age would indicate. Specks, marks and other debris are seen at times on the print used, but there are stretches - such as the first few minutes - where the amount of wear is distracting. Sharpness and detail are improved mildly over the DVD, as the picture looked a tad crisper and more well-defined. While the wear and tear on the print used was dismaying at times, there were not really any other concerns of note: the picture appeared free of edge enhancement and pixelation. Colors looked natural and accurate, appearing well-saturated and never smeary. Overall, this was an average presentation of the film.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.0. "Election" is mainly dialogue-driven, but there are some nice touches heard at times. The fun score by Rolfe Kent is captured with clarity and sounds warm and full. Occasionally, things do "open up", such as with the cheers of a crowd of students. Audio quality was fine, with clear, natural dialogue.
EXTRAS: A commentary from director Alexander Payne is the only extra included, and is carried over from the DVD. While Payne does provide some solid insights on the film in terms of casting/writing choices and production stories, there are unfortunately some noticeable gaps of silence at times.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Election" still stands up quite well, with Broderick and Witherspoon's lead performance's doing a fine job carrying this unique teen (although it's almost more for adults) film. The Blu-Ray remains a little disappointing, unfortunately, as video quality comes up a bit short of expectations and the only extra is one carried over from the DVD. Not recommended for those who already have the DVD as it's not a major upgrade, but those who are seeking to purchase the film for the first time should consider the Blu-Ray.
The Film B+