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Movie of the Day: Election

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What It Is: A disgruntled ethics teacher (Matthew Broderick) interferes in a high stakes high school presidential race between overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) and lovable dumb jock Paul (Chris Klein). Alexander Payne’s satire still resonates for its sharp, intelligent commentary about the flaws in American politics, the inanity of teenage social status, and the rigid bureaucracy of education. Despite all the poignant swipes at the system, at the end of the day, every vote matters.

Why It’s Unique: The 1992 presidential election between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and third party “populist” Ross Perot provided the inspiration for the original source material. Despite this, the film is arguably more relevant today than it was upon its release in 1999. In the 2000 election, comparisons to this movie inevitably ensued between “boring” overachiever Al Gore and “lovable” idiot bro George W. Bush (though interestingly, Bush’s father played the Tracy Flick role in the original political allegory). You can probably do the math for the most recent presidential election. Payne’s film captured more than just the idiosyncrasies of high school popularity contests, biting deep into the marrow of cynicism towards politics and the archetypal media narratives that inevitably get drawn around candidates.

Who Made It: Perhaps the greatest comedic filmmaker of his generation, Alexander Payne began his career in the vein of political satirist with this film and the abortion debate comedy Citizen Ruth. In his later films, he’s focused more on the quirkiness and hypocrisy of middle-class white American culture ranging from the Midwest heartland where he grew to the more exotic locales of California wine country and Hawaii. When certain political commentators claim that Hollywood is out of touch with regular Americans, Payne is the guy whose work they intentionally ignore precisely because it’s so insightful.

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