When Walk the Line was chocking up awards, I seem to remember a certain confusion over whether or not the plucky young rom-com star Reese Witherspoon was entirely deserving of accolades. Sure, she was America’s newest sweetheart thanks to 2001’s Legally Blonde, but was her critically pleasing turn in the country singer biopic telling of what the starlet was truly capable of? If anyone needed a refresher as to what Ms. Witherspoon can do with a fully-realized character, pick up a copy of Election and bask in the glow of a real actress doing some great, if disturbing, work on screen. Tracy Flick, the overachieving alpha-female of Carver High, has her heart set on being class president, and she makes it very clear throughout the movie that her diminutive stature isn’t entirely telling of her relentless ferocity when it comes to this quest.
On her rampage toward the presidency, she’s faced with opposition from an annoyed teacher with a troubled marriage (played with a much more subtle relentlessness by Matthew Broderick), an unwitting but well-meaning jock who runs in the election on a whim (played by Chris Klein), and the jock’s revenge-wrought sister (played by Jessica Campbell) who’s out to sabotage her brother for stealing away her lesbian-on-the-down-low girlfriend. The fact of the matter is, though, that the show is all about Witherspoon. Flick, you can tell, is a character that will still be remembered by name long after the movie may’ve been forgotten. From her tenacious facial tics every times she gets riled up, to her conservative clothing choices, to her Nebraskan accent shining through on all her long vowel utterances, Witherspoon’s Flick is a major character study.
Though the actress would have to wait six more years before landing a nomination at the big show, Alexander Payne’s screenplay for the film (adapted from the book by Tom Perrotta of Little Children fame) managed a nod at the Oscars, and it was well-deserved. What on its surface appears to be one of the many teen comedies that surfaced in the late-1990s becomes an adult take on the seedy underbelly of high school politics. Election incites fear into any person who fits one of the prototypes presented in the film – the overachiever, the jock, the outcast, the “helpful” teacher. If you don’t “Pick Flick,” you’re in for a world of hurt.