Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Election

By Mike Everleth ⋅ May 7, 1999

For someone who produces a website with an Anarchy symbol in its logo, it might be amusing to hear that I have held elected office. It’s true. And to hear the whole story, we have to go way, way back into the dark days of mikE, back when the “M” was capitalized and the “E” was lowercase. That is true, too. Once upon a time I did go by the name “Mike”.

Not only was I a pretty dorky teenager I was even in one of the lowest social clubs in the high school hierarchy. No, not the chess club. I wasn’t THAT much of a geek. But I was, as we were affectionately nicknamed, a Band Fag. I played trumpet, but I never let myself get very good at it since I hardly practiced by myself very much. I was an excellent marcher however.

My school, Mainland Regional High, had a competing marching band and we were lorded over by a tyrannical music instructor Mr. Skwarlo. A very severe man, he would browbeat us into becoming the best performers we could be. He frequently flew into rages at us both in the music room and out on the football field. If he ever politely asked for our cooperation, I can’t remember the occasion. But, oddly enough, he was also a trained relaxation therapist and he would hypnotize us before taking the field of battle.

I had my share of battles with the old man, not so much because I wanted to fight, but because I was a wise-ass. During the spring concert my Senior year, Skwarlo took his traditional intermission to point out those who were graduating. He would just call out our names and we were supposed to stand and receive applause. When he got to me, though, I was the only name he added a comment to. He said, “When he’s not in the band, Mike is practicing to become a stand-up comedian.” After the show, Skwarlo laughed and told me someone had played a practical joke on me. Someone had written “EAT ME” on the bottom of my trumpet mute. I have no idea why he didn’t think I was low enough to have written it there myself.

The band had its own student government body with yearly elections. The end of my Junior year I’m not exactly sure if it was completely a joke or not, but I was nominated for President. Like everything else, I didn’t take the race seriously. My competition put up posters all over the band room. I had none. I never talked to anyone about it. Didn’t make any promises. Had no plans. No campaign.

And I won.

The only person who gave me a reason she voted for me was Wendy Gross who said she was touched by some cockamamie nomination speech I made about how being part of the band helped me overcome my shyness and made me a better person. But, really, I only think I won because it was definitely a popularity contest and I was generally well liked. Except by Skwarlo, pretty much.

I’m sure it killed him I won. He would have much preferred Ed Fugee have won. Ed was an ok guy, but he was someone Skwarlo knew he could have kicked around. Me, I didn’t do a darn thing my entire term in office. Skwarlo never talked to me about doing anything important. I never organized any events. Never did anything to make anybody respect me. Maybe I was an Anarchist at heart even way back when I was clean cut and “normal”. Suffice it to say I was probably the worst President the band ever had.

But I sincerely doubt the best President, whoever he or she may be, ever did anything significant. I probably put it on my college application that I held office. But did any admissions officer ever ask me what initiatives I had started? Ask me how I made the band a better organization? What good I did for the community? Of course not. It just looked nice on the application: “Band President”.

If I was clever enough, I would have beat Alexander Payne to the punch. But I will politely abdicate defeat since Payne is the best directorial satirist working today. He’s only made two films. The first, CITIZEN RUTH, is a tremendously amusing film that debases both sides of the abortion battle. Both the pro-lifers and the anti-abortionists are equally portrayed as buffoons and the main character is a glue-sniffing disaster. Ruth isn’t just unlikable, you pray to God she kills herself and her unborn baby and gets the whole thing over with.

ELECTION is Payne’s more mainstream outing (it’s produced by MTV) and in it he skewers everyone and anyone in the high school social order he can get his camera on. The film is based on a novel, so I don’t know how much genius of the script (co-written by Payne) comes from the source material or is original. But Payne is excruciatingly attentive to detail and exactingly consistent in the development his characters’ behavior.

And like CITIZEN RUTH, ELECTION is deliciously morally ambiguous. I am absolutely convinced that Matthew Broderick, playing a high school civics teacher who convinces a brainless jock to run for School President against a high-strung overachiever, who seems to be the hero of the film is actually the movie’s villain. Reese Witherspoon, who plays the overachiever, is so annoying you wish someone strangles her and gets the whole thing over with. But in reality she’s an innocent victim persecuted by the vindictive Broderick who absolutely gets what’s coming to him.

If there’s anybody who’s seen this film and wants to debate or agree with me, I would love to get an email from you. And if you haven’t seen either of Payne’s movies, I suggest that when ELECTION is released on video also rent CITIZEN RUTH on the same night. I think this is the first time I’ve recommended my readers go see a movie in one of my online reviews, so you know I must seriously like these two fine, exceptional flicks.