A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Election is a 1999 satirical comedy set in a Midwest high school and based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. Almost everyone in this dark comedy engages in extremely iffy behavior, including teachers who have very inappropriate relationships with students. Much of the comedy is rooted in the lack of self-awareness of these characters as they all engage in questionable behavior -- everything from statutory rape to extramarital affairs, from a teen girl giving a teen boy oral sex in his bedroom to the win-at-all-costs mindset, cheating by adults and students in a student council election, and drug and alcohol use among teens. The underlying theme is "morals vs ethics," and through the myriad faults of the characters and the consequences they suffer for these faults, the theme is explored. The movie also shows a closeted lesbian teen suffering her first heartbreak from a girl she thought she was in love with who tells her that she was just "experimenting." It includes frequent profanity, including "f--k" as well as "c--t" and the homophobic slur "dyke." Overall, this comedy is best for mature teens and older who are capable of seeing that the negative behavior on display is there to satirize what happens when those who are supposed to uphold the values they preach fail to do so when they think no one is watching.
What's the story?
After years of joyfully teaching high school, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) -- every kid's favorite guy -- finds his professional and personal lives spinning out of control. After the school overachiever Tracey Flick (Reese Witherspoon) raises her hand one too many times, McAllister sets out to foil her plan to win the position of student council president. Challenged (at the behest of McAllister) by a clueless yet lovable jock (Chris Klein) and his antisocial lesbian sister (Jessica Campbell), Flick will stop at nothing to win her student council seat. Both teacher and success-craving student make suspect choices as the plot speeds toward an end that will decide the fates of its dueling leads.
Is it any good?
Quirky and dark, ELECTION is one in a line of comedies directed by Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth , About Schmidt , and Sideways ). Like his other contributions, this one combines fascinating character types, tragic life events, and dark humor to produce painfully poignant images of contemporary life. The film does a fine job of presenting high school through the jaded eyes of both teacher and student, while throwing in a selection of stereotypes for good measure.
A turning point in the careers of three of its main performers, Election transformed Broderick's career as he shed Ferris Bueller's sweater vest for the shirt and tie of the "man." Additionally, this film launched Witherspoon into A-list stardom and catapulted the career of Klein, whose portrayal of the lovable jock led to leading roles in such high-profile films as American Pie (1999) and American Pie 2 (2001) and We Were Soldiers (2002).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about issues relating to ethics. Throughout this movie, characters make unethical choices. Parents may want to ask their kids to identify those actions. They may also want to use this time to discuss issues related to school. Does this film remind teens of their own school experiences? Do they know people like the characters? What are politics like at their school?
This movie is based on a novel. What would be the challenges in adapting a book like this for film? How does the movie use multiple points of view to tell the story?
What exactly does this movie satirize? How does the underlying theme of "morals vs. ethics" play into the serious intent of the comedy?
- In theaters: January 1, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: October 19, 1999
- Cast: Chris Klein, Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon
- Director: Alexander Payne
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexuality, sex-related dialogue and language, and a scene of drug use
For kids who love school stories
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.