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Film / Election

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Pick Flick!

Election 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 sexual interest in 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. This is 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's a huge fraud and a waste of time for everyone at school.
  • Academic Alpha Bitch: Tracy is perhaps the ultimate example as she's smart and ambitious, but also selfish and callous. Willing to win the election at all costs.
  • All Elections Are Serious Business: A student council election at a high school dragging up sordid love affairs and past dirt, all for the sake of vengeance. Notably, only Tracy and McAllister treat it as such (because they are the aforementioned vengeance-seekers) while the other two candidates really don't care (one is in the race becuase he was asked to, the other is actually protesting the whole thing).
  • The Alleged Car: Although it is in reasonable condition, 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 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.
  • 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 congressman's aide, but is still up to her old tricks of seducing older men. Though depending on how you interpret the characters it may actually range from Happy to Downer.
    • Tracy wins the election and becomes student council president, only to find that the job is practically meaningless and it doesn't make her any more popular with the students. When she goes on to college she's still a solitary student, ignored by her peers, and she realizes that she'll always be alone even though there is the implication that her overachieving ways may eventually take Tracy to high places.
  • Brainless Beauty: Paul.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Paul's last line, spoken directly into the camera: "Or maybe I'd be dead."
  • Brick Joke: In the final scene, McCallister encounters another eager young student willing to answer a question. As with Tracy, he's loath to call upon her.
  • College Is "High School, Part 2": The college Tracy enters is this, much to her anger. She never finds anybody she could consider an academic peer because everybody else is too busy pretending they're in Animal House.
  • Cool Loser: Tammy. Justified, as it eventually became the part of her plan.
  • Cute and Psycho: Tracy.
  • Dean Bitterman: The principal completely overreacts to Tammy's candidacy speech: he wants to punish her for running what is a legitimate protest campaign against Student Council.
  • 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, evidently to get expelled from the school and therefore distanced from the people she grew to hate.
  • Fille Fatale: Tracy is probably a Femme Fatale in the making.
  • Flyover Country: Although Alexander Payne seems to be proud of his native city Omaha, Nebraska, making it the setting for three of his films including this one, he certainly doesn't try to make it look glamourous.
  • The Film of the Book
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Averted: when Jim moves to New York City he has to pay $1550 a month (plus utilities) 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. The page image is a scene from the film of her presiding over a table filled with about a hundred cupcakes, each one having the message "Pick Flick" written on it in icing.
  • Good Is Dumb: Paul, the most sympathetic and decent character in the film, is an absolute moron.
  • Graceful Loser: Paul takes his defeat in stride, caring even less than Tammy and still being the most popular kid in school.
  • Grass Is Greener: How Mr. McAllister, possibly to 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.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Mr McAllister sees his friend Dave as absolutely blameless in cheating on his wife: he blames Tracy for seducing him. Dave himself sees it as his being hopelessly in love with her.
  • 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 Georgetown, and later becomes a senator's aide that she is implied to be having an affair with. However, she has to endure the scorn of everyone around her for her holier-than-thou attitude. Not to mention McAllister really having it in for her.
    • Tracy in a more specific example. After tearing down Paul's posters she's heading for an expelling, derailing all her ambitions at once. That particular bullet misses her completely.
  • 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 naivete 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.
  • Manipulative Bastard: McAllister to Paul primarily, but he's doing it to work Tracy over as well.
  • Nominated as a Prank: McAllister goads Dumb Jock Paul Metzler into running for Student Body President just to fuck with Tracy Flick, who is running unopposed, as Jim hates Tracy and blames her for a teacher-student affair that ruined his best friend's career. Shortly after, Paul's sister Tammy decides to run for Student Body President - on a platform of abolishing the position - just to fuck with Paul, who she blames for supposedly turning her ex-girlfriend straight.
  • 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 because someone else (Tammy) would rather take credit for the crime.
  • One-Word Title: Election, because of the Student Council President election that's the basis of the plot.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size: McAllister finds someone to run against Tracy for the sheer sake of making it more difficult for her to win.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Paul.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Winning Class President for Tracy, since it's a meaningless position, and she is not very well liked for it anyways.
  • Revised 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.
  • 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 it's 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.
  • Smug Smiler: A Running Gag is that on several occasions, whenever McAllister sees Tracy the camera will freeze on a shot of her with a very smug look on her face.
  • Stepford Smiler: Tracy, especially in Mr. McAllister's view, the way she 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: Reese Witherspoon's character looks really good in tight sweaters and it's used for innocent fanservice.
  • 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.
  • Unishment: 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.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Tracy. Her flashbacks (especially to her affair) all downplay her culpability in the events of the film. Jim, Tammy and Paul also count.
  • Villain Protagonist: Mr. McAllister. Lying, election fraud, adultery, Machiavellian use of Paul... all whilst enacting his plan to bring down the target of his spite. Not really a boy scout.
  • 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.


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