ELECTION (1999) (Blu-ray)
Following up after his brilliant feature film debut, Citizen Ruth, director/co-writer Alexander Payne and his partner co-writer Jim Taylor returned to Omaha for their next project, adapting Tom Perrotta’s novel, Election.
Set at George Washington Carver High School, the film focuses on the participants of a student-body presidential election. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) has a Type-A personality and is so intense and determined that no other student runs against her, although apathy from the rest of the students might be a factor as well.
As the faculty adviser teacher, Jim McCallister (Matthew Broderick) is concerned about having to work with her. He finds her annoying in class and thinks it’s unfair that her role in the affair that ruined the life of his good friend and fellow teacher Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik) went unrevealed. There may also be some attraction on his part. Jim enlists varsity quarterback Paul Metzler (Chris Klein in his first role) to run against Tracy, who is upset at first about the competition.
The third person running for the position is Paul’s younger sister, sophomore Tammy (Jessica Campbell), but only out of revenge. Tammy and her friend Lisa were growing close until Lisa realized she didn’t have the same feelings and was just experimenting. Tammy doesn’t consider herself “a lesbian or anything” because she’s “attracted to the person. It’s just that all the people [she’s] ever been attracted to are girls.” Lisa quickly becomes Paul’s girlfriend, which hurts and angers Tammy so she runs for president to get back at both of them.
At the candidates’ presentation to the student body, Tammy is the one who stands out when she talks about what a joke student government is because it’s the same nonsense every year because nothing ever changes except for the winner. She makes a campaign promise to disband student government if she gets elected, bringing the students to their feet.
One night, Tracy accidentally tears her poster while trying to adhere it to the wall. This causes her to freak out as she feels the presidency slipping through her fingers. She lashes out by tearing down all of Paul’s posters and quickly disposes of the evidence.
While trying to juggle the events at school, life outside is complicated for Jim. He and his wife have been trying to have a baby for a while. He helps out Dave’s wife Judith (Colleen Camp) with chores and grows attracted to her.
The plot plays out and concludes in a hysterical way. Payne and Taylor have been writing comedies that have a combination of intelligence and wit that is rarely witnessed elsewhere. Election’s screenplay is smart and never predictable. It also makes the viewer pay attention as seemingly meaningless events have great importance. The characters appear as believable people with a good deal of depth revealed as the film plays out.
Although the Blu-ray release coincides with the film’s 10th anniversary, Paramount regrettably saw no reason to commemorate it. It just appears to be the material from the previous DVD release transferred over. While the elements don’t dazzle the way many current releases do, the upgrade still augments the visuals to a noticeable degree, presented in 1080p High Definition and an aspect ration of 2.35:1. During sunny outdoor scenes, the blue sky and green grass are rich as are the red clothes and made-up lips of Judith. Details are clear, such as during long shots of the gymnasium where the different slats that make up the floor can be seen.
The audio is available in English 5.0 Dolby TrueHD although there’s not much required, like watching a black-and-white movie on a color monitor. The film is dialogue driven. Other than some occasional ambiance, like the students at the rally or bees in the backyard, the surround speakers have nothing to do.
The commentary track by Payne demonstrates what a talented and methodical director he is. He explains the visual language he uses with the characters, associating Jim with circles and Tracy with straight lines. These motifs run throughout the film, but they are subtle and likely missed by most viewers. He talks about the changes from the novel and reasons why, as well as scenes that were shot yet cut from the film. One of his most brilliant choices is having Tracey’s internal fury manifest itself on the soundtrack in the form of a Native American women wailing during the opening moments of Ennio Morricone’s theme for Navajo Joe. Payne also presents his insights into filmmaking, discussing his likes and dislikes, such as conventions as removing rear-view mirrors from cars or hosing down the streets at night, one of my own pet peeves,
For those who already own Election, this edition isn’t worth the upgrade. For those who don’t, I vote you make it a part of your collection with Standard DVD being a viable choice.