10 July 2004 | bob the moo
Not totally convincing but an enjoyable dark comedy that swipes at politics and sexual relations
James McAllister is a contented high school teacher who is presiding over the elections for school president this year. However, the only student running for the position is the overly keen Tracey Flick a driven student who he feels is callous and blames for his best friend being fired for falling in love with her. Desperate to prevent her becoming president, James convinces injured jock Paul to run, prompting Paul's love-scorned sister to also stand. Where once the presidency was a good clean-cut race, Tracey takes the competition badly, and it descends into something a lot more sinister.
I wasn't totally sure about this film but I had heard good things about it and, even though the fact that it was an MTV Production put me off a bit, I decided to give it a try. The film is quite clever for the most part and takes the worn genre and clichés of high school movies and makes them into a quite good little political satire of sorts albeit one that is rather downbeat at times. The comedy is not laugh out loud funny and maybe that's a problem, but I enjoyed the parallels with modern politics (and sexual issues) and found it to make some good points in a funny way. Of course the end is rather downbeat but only because it is sadly believable.
I must say that I was rather put off by a couple of different things. The first was the amount of sexual material in the film not a real problem but I was a little put off by how graphically the subject of underage sex was dealt with. This was a minor problem (if you can pardon the pun!) but what I found a little worrying was Payne's apparent misogynistic touch on the film all the men were hapless saps and the women held the real power all the way; I'm not saying this is not true but Payne has little sympathy for his female characters and they may come off better overall but there is no love lost for them.
The cast opens with an amusing bit of role reversal that sees everyone's favourite high school student become a teacher in the shape of Matthew Broderick. Hardly having the best run of roles for a while, he is actually pretty good here even if some of what happens to his character doesn't seem to fit very well. Witherspoon is annoying but the difference here is that it is intentional! She easily fits into the character and her role has a great touch to it I'm not saying it is easy to enjoy her performance but she is good. Klein does his usual dumb jock thing but is fortunate that he has the material to support (this time) but I felt Campbell was left with a sympathetic character that was placed on the sidelines too much.
Overall I enjoyed this film but it had its limitations. It isn't hilariously funny as many coming to this genre may expect but it is quite cleverly written. The story struggles a bit as it goes along, with threads left hanging that stop it being as tight as it maybe could have been but generally I enjoyed it but can see why some others have problems with it.