Critic’s Choice: Alexander Payne’s ‘Election’ is a Flick worth picking

Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick in the 1999 film “Election,”
(Bob Akester / Paramount Pictures)
Film Critic

The cover of the new Criterion Collection edition of “Election” features a cupcake bearing the high-school campaign slogan “PICK FLICK” in brightly frosted letters. Even those who haven’t seen Alexander Payne’s wickedly astute 1999 satire will likely grasp the reference. Tracy Flick, played in a brilliant, career-best performance by Reese Witherspoon, is one of those characters whose names have seeped into the cultural consciousness, her name becoming a kind of shorthand for Type-A go-getters the world over.

In her excellent accompanying essay, Slate film critic Dana Stevens notes the eerie ways in which “Election” prefigured early 21st century American politics, including but not limited to the presence of “a hyperqualified female candidate punished for her unseemly ambition.” But the enduring pleasures of Payne’s movie go beyond its prescience. Scene by scene, line by line, this ruthlessly clear-eyed comedy offers a potent reminder that the political is never not personal.

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