Election is a tricky little film. By making the usually sympathetic protagonist unsympathetic by the end, and the standard antagonist the more sympathetic one, Election manages to put our heart to sleep, while forcing us to watch it with our eyes and minds, but the problem is the eyes ultimately dupe the mind into believing that we are watching something worthwhile; only if one dutifully thinks about the film later, can one come to some conclusions regarding what it's actually trying to say, and how many people are willing and able to do that? The truth is they shouldn't have to.
Election is really about two things, it's about Jim MacAlister's downfall due to an unethical decision, and Ms. Flicks ascendant victory. What Election is really about is the impotent man, but it fails as a film for several reasons. In making the antagonist so sympathetic, Mr. Payne may have launched Mrs.Whitherspoon's acting career, but he did not do much for his film. I personally was confused after the first viewing about who the protagonist actually was. And since in the film Mr. MacAlister's downfall has only a tenuous, at best, cause and effect relationship to Ms. Flicks triumph, with no real cause and effect at all, only correlation, the film does not manage to cast even slightest glaze of irony on her victory.
A classical definition of a comedy is not that it has to be funny, but that it end well. A closer look at this film would reveal that it is neither a comedy nor a tragedy, but a hybrid of both. Although this film professes to be a comedy, there are few laughs, and we have to question if the film fulfills that promise by ending happily. Clearly Payne Suggests that all does not end well for Jim McAllister, and the film, at best, ends with murky tones.
It is somewhat ironic that Mr. MacAlister gets what is implied by the director essentially the shaft in the end. In making him so sympathetic throughout the film it sets up somewhat other expectations for this character, whom Broderick's persona infuses with the utmost sympathy. Tracy, on the other hand, who has been an annoyance throughout the entire film, ends up ascendantly triumphant, despite this. It is a strange strategy for a filmmaker to employ these constructs. More than anything, the film confuses with an unclear central message.
Film Critic Chuck Rudolph goes to write: "Exposes the dullards who praise it as the very suckers who promote the divisions among people under the pretense of virtuous moral insight." And that's the problem with Election, at the end it comes off as a film which tries to say something positive, but in fact is attempting to say something in the negative sense. We want to see someone, anyone, learn a lesson by the end of the film, and we don't. There are no character arcs in this film. I won't be the one to steadfastly quote and stay within the rules and confines that are considered "correct narrative;" the stuff they teach you in film school, but if a film doesn't work for me, I find it instinctively useful to look at the rules which govern classical drama for guidance.
Beneath all of its veneer Election has no core or soul, at its weak heart it is just pure entertainment. And the real message of the film, if you care to look that deeply, is that the most soul cringing myopia and anality can pay off, big time, if the stars line up correctly. This film, which is so plot driven, has to know exactly where it is going; no amount of visual stylings and visual nuance can make up for lack of insight in that direction. One can imagine it playing differently and better in the book were some different laws of narrative can come into effect.
Nine out of ten critics thought well of this film, although it is certain that the film did not reach its expectations at the box office. The emperor's new clothes have taken on a new meaning; this time, instead of being just completely naked, what a few of us see, finally, is a warped aneuploid character that is a bit uglier than a vague-vain human form. Such are the mechanics of our art, and the ironic times we are living in. I think, though, that a general feeling might get through to some that, simply, all is not well in the landscape of America, even if the audience are not exactly sure what the reasons are... But most probably, I consider, the one question that will be lingering in their minds while leaving the theater is the same question that Jim MacAlister asks us at the end of the film, "...And what is she doing in that Limo?"
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