Razor sharp satire about a high school in Omaha, Nebraska – director Payne's hometown – where a monstrously ambitious high school student (Reese Witherspoon, who couldn't be more perfect in the role) decides to run for student body president, and a much-loved but self-righteous government teacher (Matthew Broderick) does everything he can to keep her from winning. The two stars headline an otherwise no-name cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own agendas and foibles. In short, no one is spared in this funny and painfully honest look at the little things ordinary people do to ruin each other's lives.
Some viewers might find the film's multiple voiceovers and whimsical visuals to be cutesy, but I actually think these quirks are necessary in balancing out the viciousness of what these characters are really doing to each other. Without the sight gags, the pettiness and hypocrisy on display in Election might be unbearable. What's so great about the film, however, is that Payne and cowriter Jim Taylor – adapting a little-known novel by Tom Perrotta – plot the drama expertly, so that you somehow keep rooting for Broderick no matter how low he ultimately stoops, and you keep craving a sorry ending for the haughty Witherspoon even when she's being wronged. Every inventive idea that you might think to add to this story is here; Payne and Taylor leave no stone unturned. Election is brilliant stuff, one of the best films of 1999.