is a 1999 satirical teen dramedy
based on the 1998 novel of the same name
by Tom Perrotta, starring Matthew Broderick
, Reese Witherspoon
and Chris Klein and directed by Alexander Payne
Overachieving high school student Tracy Flick is running unopposed for Student Council President
. This draws the ire of history and civics teacher Jim McAllister, who hates Tracy's attitude
and feels that the students should have a choice — any choice — in the election. There's also the fact that McAllister is holding a massive grudge against Tracy for engaging in a sexual relationship
with his best friend/fellow teacher Dave Novotny, which wound up getting him fired and destroying his marriage — while Tracy (thanks to her mother) got the school to cover up the entire thing in order to protect her reputation.
To foil her dreams of using the election as a springboard for her future, McAllister recruits injured star football player Paul Metzler to run against Tracy. This inspires Paul's lesbian sister Tammy to run as well, in order to get revenge upon Paul for dating Tammy's ex-girlfriend (who dumped Tammy after deciding that she wasn't a lesbian after all
). Meanwhile, McAllister, feeling a lack of passion in his love life (and fearing his own Foe Yay
with Tracy) starts dating the aforementioned friend's ex-wife. All of this culminates into the mother of all bad days as all of these trains crash into each other.
The film was a critical darling, but had a mediocre take at the box office, due to the studio screwing up its marketing
and portraying it as a straight-up teen comedy as opposed to a drama with Black Comedy
overtones — presumably an effort to cash in on the success of American Pie
(the fact that Chris Klein is in both films adds a bit of credence to that theory), which came out earlier that year. Based on its critical success, though, it managed an Academy Award
nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.note
Likewise, Reese Witherspoon received glowing reviews for her performance, and it is often cited as one of the future Academy Award
winner's best roles. The film also resurrected Matthew Broderick
's career after several years of obscurity.
It has since been Vindicated by History
, and was named by Entertainment Weekly
as the ninth greatest High School
movie ever made.
- Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Deconstructed. The student council is ultimately revealed at the end of the film as being highly dysfunctional, to the point that Tracy can't get anything accomplished during her tenure as President. Furthermore, the film pretty much establishes that the whole thing is one glorified popularity contest: hence why Mr. McAllister selects Paul to run against Tracy since, as one of the most popular kids at school, more kids in theory will vote for him over Tracy. Furthermore, Tammy's entire campaign platform is based upon the idea of dissolving the student council as she openly acknowledges that it is a huge fraud and a waste of time for everyone at school.
- All Elections Are Serious Business
- The Alleged Car: Although it is reasonable condition and runs well enough, Mr. McAllister drives a pretty crappy early 90s Ford Festiva compact car (a rebadged Korean-built Kia Pride), a minute car by American standards. Presumably this was chosen deliberately, in the DVD commentary Alexander Payne says "Ford Festiva, the car of an impotent man."
- Almighty Janitor: Mr. McAllister makes the very big mistake of unknowingly pissing off the school janitor by dropping a box of chow mein on the floor in an absent-minded attempt at cleaning up the staff room. It bites him in the ass when the janitor finds the thrown-out ballots in the trash bin and reveals to the principal that he had rigged the election.
- Alternate Ending: The original ending has Jim working at a car dealership in town having generally recovered from his pariahdom. Tracy shows up to pick up a new car the day before she goes off to college, confronts McAllister and asks him why he did it. After Mr. McAllister apologizes Tracy confesses to being scared about going off to college but McAllister reassures her that she'll be okay and signs her yearbook. This is taken from the book's ending.
- Ambition Is Evil: The film definitely takes this stance vis-à-vis Tracy Flick.
- Bilingual Bonus: Right before Paul is called to the principal's office to learn that he actually lost the election, his Spanish class is conjugating the verb for "to lose".
- Bittersweet Ending: McAllister rebuilds his life and finds a new love, but must deal with the fact that Tracy has not only gone on to great things as a Senator's aide, but is still up to her old tricks of seducing older men.
- Brainless Beauty: Paul.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Paul's last line, spoken directly into the camera: "Or maybe I'd be dead."
- Briar Patching: Tammy's parents try to discipline her by sending her to Catholic school (implied to be all-girl), although that's exactly where she wants to go.
- Brick Joke: In the final scene, McCallister encounters another eager young student willing to answer a question. As with Tracy, he's loathed to call upon her.
- Cool Loser: Tammy.
- Cute and Psycho: Tracy.
- Decided By One Vote: Ironically, the deciding vote comes from Paul, he votes for Tracy because he doesn't know if voting for himself would be the right thing.
- Dork Horse Candidate: Tammy.
- Education Mama: Tracy's mother.
- False Confession: Tammy lies and says that she tore down Paul's posters, more to spite her brother than to take credit for Tracy's actions.
- Fille Fatale: Tracy.
- Flyover Country: Although Alexander Payne seems to be proud of his native city Omaha, Nebraska, making it the setting for 3 of his films including this one, he certainly doesn't try to make it look glamourous.
- The Film of the Book
- "Friends" Rent Control: Inverted, when Jim moves to New York City he has to pay $1550 a month (plus utilites) for a tiny little cramped basement apartment with the bed, bath and kitchen units stuffed into one little room.
- Go-Getter Girl: Hoo boy, is Tracy ever.
- Good Is Dumb: Paul, the most sympathetic and decent character in the film, is an absolute moron.
- Grass Is Greener: How Mr. McAllister, possibly the point of delusion, thinks of his "exciting" new life in New York compared to his old life in Omaha, although he is now living in a ridiculous small apartment instead of a house and has a more humble job as a museum tour guide, probably earning less with a much higher cost of living.
- Grey and Grey Morality: Tracy is a sweet but borderline psychotic overachiever who tears down Paul's posters in a fit of rage, Paul is a well-intentioned but fairly clueless guy who's only running because he was told to by his teacher, Tammy is only in the race to get revenge against Paul and Lisa, and Mr. McAllister cheats on his wife and rigs the ballots to deny Tracy the victory.
- Humiliation Conga: Mr McAllister's story arc is dedicated to heaping more and more humiliation and failure on him at an ever-increasing speed, especially in the film's final act. He does improve his lot in life a bit by the conclusion, but the way he is presented still makes him look like something of a Butt Monkey.
- Incompatible Orientation: Why Lisa stops being friends with Tammy. She was straight (and only "experimenting") while Tammy was lesbian and thought the two of them were in love.
- Karma Houdini:
- Lisa as it's strongly implied she dates Paul to hurt Tammy and later a football player to hurt Paul.
- Tracy is able to to get into Harvard, and latter becomes a senator's aid that she is implied to be having an affair with. However, has to endure the scorn of everyone around her for her holier-than-thou attitude. Not to mention Mc Allister really having it in for her.
- Lonely at the Top: Tracy. Dave even tells her as much when they're dating.
- Lovable Jock: Paul is a genuinely kind-hearted person who doesn't say or do a single unkind thing throughout the film. He's almost too nice to be for real. There is the pain he causes his sister by dating and humping her former soulmate Lisa, but due to his sheer naivety he is completely unaware of this or that Lisa is doing it to get back at Tammy.
- Male Gaze: Used intentionally when Jim is checking out Linda.
- Mama Bear: Tracy's mother.
- Not So Above It All: Tracy, in her portion of the film's narration, rants and raves against the rich kids of the school and how working hard and playing by the rules gives her moral superiority, all before going batshit crazy and engaging in blatant vandalism by destroying Paul's posters, an act she only gets away with it because someone else (Tammy) would rather take credit for the crime. Not to mention her vow to sue McAllister or anyone else who dares even hint towards the dark secret of her affair with a teacher.
- Pick on Someone Your Own Size
- Popular Is Dumb: Paul.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Winning Class President for Tracy, since its a meaningless position, and she is not very well liked for it anyways.
- Rousing Speech: Tammy gives one during the debate about how meaningless student government is and how the first thing she'd do upon being elected Student Council President is to dismantle the system so that the students wouldn't have to sit through these damn speeches and debates. Her speech is by far the most popular of the three, and its implied that she would've won the election in a landslide had she not been disqualified after she (falsely) confessed to tearing down Paul's campaign posters.
- Schoolgirl Lesbians: Tammy and Lisa, until Incompatible Orientation rears its ugly head. At the end, it's Tammy and Jennifer.
- Spoiled Sweet: Rich kid Paul gets a brand new pickup truck for his 16th birthday, goes on skiing breaks and can afford to often throw parties for his friends. But he is an extremely nice guy and is grateful for what he has. But the less well-off Tracy still hates him and has a big rant about privileged people like him waltzing in and taking what people like her have to spend their entire lives working for VERY, VERY HARD.
- Stepford Smiler: Tracy, especially in Mr. McAllister's view, the way can go from sweet to borderline psychotic. In several scenes, she flicks on her smile like a light.
- Stock Footage: Used in an obvious way when Mr. McAllister moves to New York, blown-up 16mm footage from the 1960s or 1970s is spliced in as a little montage. Also, feeling elated after starting a fling with Linda, he imagines himself driving a Jaguar E-Type convertible in a classic Italian film, with old-style rear projection behind him. Also used in the scene where Tracy is driving her car at night after tearing up all the posters
- Student Council President: What everybody is running for.
- Sweater Girl: It must be said that Reese Witherspoon looks really good in tight sweaters...
- Teacher/Student Romance: For a brief time, Tracy dated and slept with her geometry teacher, Dave Novotny. They got busted, and Dave lost his job and his wife. Fortunately for Tracy's reputation, the whole thing was kept under wraps.
- Theme Music Power-Up: When Tracy gets really pissed, you'll know it.
- Unreliable Narrator: Tracy. Her flashbacks (especially on her affair) all downplay her culpability in the events of the film. Jim, Tammy and Paul also count.
- Villainous Breakdown: Although Tracy isn't very good at controlling her emotions anyway, she has one in the scene where she snaps and tears down all Paul's posters, ending up with bloody hands. And also after she "loses" the election, when she gets home she cries her eyes out.
- Visual Pun:
- After discussing the "fruits" of democracy with Mr. M, there is a bowl of the discussed fruits on Paul's kitchen counter.
- Also Tracy's viewpoints on Coca-Cola staying #1 because of advertising. While drinking a Pepsi, Mr. McCallister is inspired to pick Paul to run against her. Doubles as a Brick Joke when at the end of the film, McAllister throws a Pepsi cup at the limo Tracy is riding in.
- Vote Early, Vote Often: Inverted, but with the same effect. Mr. McAllister throws two votes for Tracy into the garbage in order to deny her the victory.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue:
- Tammy gets sent to Catholic school after covering for Tracy by falsely confessing to tearing down the posters. She finds that it's not nearly as strict as expected and spends most of her time getting stoned in the bathroom. She also meets her new girlfriend Jennifer.
- Tracy is instated as student council president after Mr. McAllister's fraud is exposed. Unfortunately for Tracy, everyone on Student Council hates her (and each other in general), meaning that Tracy's tenure is a miserable experience all around. After graduation, she attends Georgetown University and continues to find herself alone, surrounded by people she considers to be slackers and underachievers who get by on their parents' money. She later becomes a Congressional aide, with it strongly implied that she is having a sexual relationship with the older man.
- Paul recovers from his injury, rejoins the team, becomes homecoming king and prom king, and goes on to play football for the University of Nebraska. He wonders where his life would have gone had he won the election.
- Mr. McAllister is forced to resign after getting caught rigging the student council election and his wife divorces him for cheating on her. And since the scandal happened on a slow news day, the whole thing is picked up by the national media and McAllister becomes the town pariah. He ultimately moves to New York City where he lives in a tiny yet expensive apartment and manages to land a job working as a tour guide at the Museum of Natural History. This gives him a chance to teach again and he starts dating a co-worker named Gillian.
- Dave is working a dead-end job stamping price tags at a hardware store.