Finally, MTV Films and director Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth) give us what we’ve always wanted: a coming-of-age satire, not fluff, not sentimental mishmash, not absurdly idealized characters.
Her name is Tracy Flick. She’s bold, unapologetic, vindictive. Don’t be fooled by her blue, unflinching eyes; don’t trust her rehearsed smile; don’t underestimate the power of her will. At a first glance she could pass for the all-American girl, but – devoid of sugar and spice and anything nice – the illusion will dissipate like an imperfect, volatile smoke screen. She’s Cinderella’s bright red apple: wholesome on the outside, poisonous on the inside. Take one bite and you’ll choke to death.
Tracy Flick. Watch her closely as the camera distorts her features in an eccentric freeze-frame. She may not look tough, but she’ll be the death of you. Flick. You know the type. She’s part of every committee, of every club ever invented. She’s a straight-A student, head cheerleader and captain of the volleyball team.
"What’s the difference between ethics and morals?" Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), student government adviser and teacher of the year, asks. Tracy’s hand shoots up, impatient. Of course she knows. She knows the answer to all the questions. High school is just "the first step in a lifelong career strategy." "Anybody?" McAllister asks, resentful of her perfection, of her brisk, determined movements which make her look like a mechanical toy. The fling she had with the math teacher – for him an affair of the heart – cost him his job. She was, undoubtedly, the victim.
Flick. Where will we meet her next? Dedicated – body and soul – to the worthy cause of another presidential campaign? Perfecting the clinical art of sweet revenge, that dish better served cold? Maybe in the future. For the time being, our Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon of Pleasantville and Cruel Intentions in another flawless performance) has better things to do. She’s got to win the student government presidency and start – at George Washington Carver High – a new despotic era.
And as McAllister struggles with issues of truth and happiness, ethics and morals, there is but one person who knows all the answers. But her voice he wishes to silence, before it’s too late, before she takes control of all our lives.
"Anybody?" McAllister asks in the silence that follows. "Anybody?"
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