Election
1999
Dir: Alexander Payne
In the early 1850s, Thoreau wrote, 'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.'

He was probably referring to the very real suffering of the New Englanders who had just endured a severe economic depression.

However, the phrase lived on, and still resonates in the minds of men.

This is not to say that women do not have their own crosses to bear, but of course they are subtly different, and have been explored in many films and TV programmes, often nicknamed 'chick flicks'. 'Sex in the City' is an example of a show entirely based around the concept of women's 'issues'.

When one thinks of films for real 'men', one thinks about guns, women, car chases, rugged heroes, etc.
It is perhaps part of the burden of being male that even to dwell too long on the hardships and responsibilities of life would be contrary to the rules of masculinity.
Suck it up, man up, and deal with it. That's what a real man would do.

But what Alexander Payne has done is to dig beneath the stoic exterior of male existence, and expose the weakness and vulnerability inside.

He documents the difficulties that all men face at some point in their life: the desire to get laid; the struggle to stay faithful; the burden of having to deal with women at all, the interminable responsibilities, underachievement and ultimately failure.

The characters in his film often have noble aims, but a combination of their weaknesses and responsibilities distract them from their goals.

And, if men have a tendency to screw themselves up, they are not helped by a world that is continually unfair and often seemingly conspiring to undermine them.

But I wouldn't want you think that these are depressing films.

Of course, deep down, men understand their weaknesses, know that the world is out to undermine them, and recognize that they will ultimately fail. So they do the only thing they can: laugh about it.

And that's what happens when we watch the films of Alexander Payne. We watch as the male characters unravel in front of us, and we laugh.

Because, really, that's all one can do isn't it?

Before 'Sideways' and 'About Schmidt', which put Alexander Payne on the map, 'Election' was every bit as sharp and enjoyable.

It tells the story of a popular high school teacher played by Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller), who finds his nemesis in Reese Witherspoon, an ambitious, ruthless student who is determined to become school president.

It is bitter, slightly twisted, and extremely funny.
You will never look at Reese Witherspoon in the same way.

Paul Spurrier