Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is a real go-getter, alright. After several years straight of heading up just about every last club and committee at Carver High, this type-A overachiever has her eyes set squarely on a new prize: the office of student body president. As perky and hyperenthusiastic as she is, Tracy doesn't exactly have any friends to turn to for support, but hey: she's running unopposed. Tracy's not the type to lean back and relax even though she is a lock to win. With a couple hundred dead trees' worth of posters and a fishbowl filled to the brim with Juicy Fruit at her fingertips, Tracy hits the campaign trail -- or, well, a desk nudged against a wall in the lobby -- bright, early, and hard.
This sort of overcaffeinated enthusiasm might impress most teachers, but Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick)...? Not so much. Mr. M can't stomach the thought of watching Tracy steamroll her way to victory, and it sure doesn't help that her fling with another teacher left one of his best friends ousted from the school. Mr. McAllister prods Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) -- a dim but ridiculously likeable jock hobbling around on a broken leg -- to toss his hat into the ring. You can practically see the steam bursting out of Tracy's ears. She spends hours poring over banners with poster paint while Paul scrawls his name with a marker on a shredded cardboard box. Tracy quotes Thoreau in a polished, over-rehearsed speech in an assembly; he mumbles his way through it in a single rambling, incoherent run-on sentence. She slavishly devotes hours and hours and hours to this campaign, and who looks like he's about snatch victory away from her...? A
Oh, and to heap on the headaches, Paul's bratty younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) gives the presidency a shot too as a bit of revenge against the gal who dumped her, and all she does is stand up in front of the school and rant about how pointless this election is anyway. She's...she's demeaning the entire political process! There's a lot of that going around, though. Tracy is desperate enough to clinch the nod as student body president that she tosses ethics (or is it morals?) out the driver's side window to steal the election. Meanwhile, Mr. McAllister is every bit as determined to keep her from plowing her way into office, although a little extramarital thing he's sparking keeps him from giving that his undivided attention...
Election evenhandedly skewers all of its characters, and there really isn't anyone to root for: every last one of them is fundamentally flawed in some way. Of course, this all translates awfully well to poking fun at the election process as a whole too. With a choice between an obnoxious overachiever who's just out to succeed for the sake of success and an endlessly charismatic but dim-witted jock, does it really matter who wins? Since we're saddled with one lousy choice or another in the end, the rest of us lose out no matter who scores the most votes. Although all of its characters take their share of abuse, Election is too smart to just lazily line up a bunch of easy targets. Mr. McAllister, Paul, Tammy, and Tracy are a little cartoonishly skewed in the way characters in most satires are, but they're surprisingly relatable, not to mention equal parts charming and repulsive in their own ways. Everyone's known people like them, both in those dark days of high school and in the years since.
This is a movie that can be surprisingly dark -- statutory rape and infidelity are key plot points -- and it's startlingly frank about sex. Porky's it's not, though; Election treats sex as something that's frequently kind of awkward and embarrassing, scoring a steady stream of uncomfortable laughs in the process. Election juggles all of that with a spry, playful sense of humor, from goofball Italian cinema fantasies to an epiphany sparked by a can of Pepsi to a Walgreens trip for a night of extramarital bliss. The movie doesn't play it safe, steering clear of stock formulas or mugging for big laughs, and that unpredictability is an enormous part of its charm. Election is one delicate balancing act after another, but steered by the confident, uncompromising hand of Alexander Payne, this sharp, clever satire never stumbles.
Paramount opted not to ring in Election's tenth anniversary with much of a special edition. This Blu-ray disc is really just the 1999 DVD with a high definition version of that old, dusty master and a low-key lossless soundtrack. That may make this Blu-ray disc tougher for even longtime fans of the movie to want to shell out another twentysomething bucks. Election is a movie that's worth discovering on Blu-ray, though, even if it's as a rental or after the price eases back a few months down the road. Recommended.
On the other hand, Paramount did go to the trouble of ensuring that Election's AVC encode has all of the headroom it needs. The Blu-ray disc has just over 27 gigs of data on it, and rather than cram it down to fit on a BD-25, Paramount went to the extra expense of letting the encode spill over into a second layer. It's also very much worth mentioning that there's no comparison whatsoever between this 1080p presentation of Election and the original DVD, despite being culled from the same master. Soft and muddy, that DVD really doesn't hold up at all these days. While I do think there's a fair amount of room for improvement on this Blu-ray disc, Election is still very much worth the upgrade.
Election sports a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and depending on if you want to lean on the packaging or the display on your receiver, it's either a 5.0 or a 5.1 mix. It's not all that tough to believe that there isn't a discrete LFE channel, though, considering that next to nothing is churning around in the lower frequencies. Bass response is modest, largely stemming from the thundering toms in the score. The surround channels don't draw all that much attention to themselves either. Buzzing bees and a rowdy gaggle of kids in an assembly add a little color to a handful of scenes, but for the most part, the rears are reserved for light atmosphere and reinforcing the music. None of this is really all that unexpected, though. Election is a dialogue-driven film, after all, and the lossless audio does what it needs to well enough.
Traditional Dolby Digital tracks are offered in French and Spanish alongside subtitles in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Even though the sole extra from the DVD is carried over, it's a shame that Paramount didn't track down anything else for this Blu-ray disc. Payne mentions several deleted scenes in the commentary that disappointingly aren't offered here, for instance.
The Final Word
None of Election's characters stroll away unscathed from its sharp, skewering sense of humor, and even right at a full decade later, this very adult high school comedy still ranks as my favorite of Alexander Payne's films. It's kind of a letdown that Paramount shrugged off the movie's tenth anniversary and opted not to revisit it with any new extras, and both its 1080p video and lossless soundtrack are fairly unremarkable. Even though its high-def presentation doesn't exactly dazzle, this Blu-ray disc is visually a hefty step up over the DVD. Still, more casual fans of the film may want to wait for the price to ease back a bit more before upgrading. Recommended.