There were tons of great high school comedies released in the 1990s.
Clueless is definitely one of my favorites. Dazed and Confused is a modern classic. There’s Can’t Hardly Wait and Pleasantville and American Pie and 10 Things I Hate About You and Never Been Kissed. And who can leave out Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion?
Lots of memorable comedies set in high school that I adore and continue to watch to this day.
But nothing for me has ever beat out Alexander Payne’s hilarious, sad, and witty high school satire from 1999 — Election, which was released on April 23rd, twenty years ago.
I’ve seen this movie probably fifteen times, and I’m looking forward to re-watching it again tonight to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. It’s simply one of my favorite comedies ever, and I can never get enough of it.
Here are five reasons why Election is the best high school comedy of the 1990s…
1. The dark humor.
This movie is hilarious. And darkly so, for sure. I remember watching it at the age of fourteen and being so happy my parents were nowhere near the house. It gets really, really dark at times, and for that I think the screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who received Oscar nominations for their work, definitely deserve some credit. They took a great novel by Tom Perrotta and turned it into a movie that is a laugh-a-minute but certainly not for everyone. I think every single joke lands in this film, and it’s because the dark humor is always based around character and the increasingly high-stakes situations more than anything else.
2. Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister
Broderick will always best be known on film for Ferris Bueller, of course, but his richest performance ever put on film, at least for me, is Jim in Election. This is the antithesis of Ferris Bueller. This is a guy who didn’t get the life he wanted, and he’s not at all happy about it. In fact, he’s willing to ruin a young girl’s life to prove why life isn’t always fair. Broderick clearly relishes this character, and he gives it his all. He’s so funny in so much of the film, most especially toward the end after a bee stings him in the eye.
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3. Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick
She won her Oscar for Walk the Line and was nominated again for Wild, but to me her greatest performance ever put on film is in Election. This is an example of an actress who goes all in, who rushes past a 10 and goes all the way to a 12 in her performance, and goes on to nail it in every scene. Witherspoon’s performance could have bordered on parody, could have felt unreal, but what makes this character so memorable is in the tiny touches she gives Tracy to make her so goddamn pathetic at the same time she’s going after her dreams and stepping on everybody she needs to in the process.
4. Jessica Campbell as Tammy Metzler
The film features other great performances, like Chris Klein in his debut, and Mark Herelik as a seriously disturbed teacher, but the third performance you definitely take with you the most is the one given by Jessica Campbell, who plays the football quarterback’s wonderfully obnoxious and rule-breaking younger lesbian sister. This could have been a one-note role, but Campbell gives it dimension and gravitas, especially in that wonderful scene where she addresses the school assembly by telling them exactly what it means to become student body president.
5. That pitch-perfect ending.
It’s hard to believe that Election originally ended, like the novel did, with Jim and Tracy bumping into each other soon after her high school graduation and having a tender heart-to-heart, the scene ending with Jim writing a note in Tracy’s yearbook. The original ending surfaced on Youtube and is there for your viewing if you’re curious. It’s way too sweet and doesn’t match the nastiness of so much in the film that comes before. The ending that was re-shot and that exists in the finished movie now is simply perfect. Perfect! That final moment of Jim throwing the drink at the limousine still makes me laugh out loud every single time.
There’s just so much more I love about Election.
I love the bouncy, unusual score by Rolfe Kent. I love the pacing of the film. I love the use of voice-over narration, and the all the cool editing tricks throughout.
This is one of my favorite films of 1999, and it to me is the best high school comedy that was released in the 1990s.
If you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend you check it out. And even if you have seen it? Definitely consider watching it again.
Happy twentieth anniversary, Election!
Noel Penaflor from California on May 02, 2019:
Good article. I love Election