1999, Movie, R, 120 mins


Surprise! An intelligent, well-written high school story that offers some real ideas to chew on, rather than simply wallowing in nubile flesh. Carver High junior Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is a tightly coiled spring of ferocious ambition: She's a relentless hand-raiser, compulsive joiner and fiercely calculating careerist who's got her eyes fixed firmly on the prize, the office of student body president. Since she's running unopposed, it looks as though another feather in her over-decorated cap is inevitable. Enter popular history teacher and student government advisor Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a self-deluded schlub whose insistence that he loves his life -- his baby-fixated wife, his uninterested students, his after-school rah-rah activities -- rings painfully hollow. And something about Tracy bugs him: Could it be her almost-certain golden future? So he persuades Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), a hugely popular jock sidelined from football by a skiing accident, to enter the ring. When Paul's sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), a bitter budding anarchist, announces her candidacy (her platform, naturally, involves the total abolition of student government), the election becomes a back-biting, sex-driven microcosm of tabloid American politics without ever losing the distinctive flavor of petty high-school nastiness. Like director Alexander Payne's debut, CITIZEN RUTH, there's something rather cold about this satirical exercise, adapted from the novel by Tom Perotta: It seems powered by a slightly smug cleverness rather than lacerating passion. But it's flawlessly acted and manages the subtle trick of making its characters types but not stereotypes: The story's most genuinely likable character is a well-meaning moron who shows glimmers of startling decency and self-awareness, while Tracy's underdog rant against the unearned bounty showered on those born to privilege and popularity is entirely justified: If only she weren't such a hateful little ankle-biter! leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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