The bulldozer ambition of infernally perky Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), an ”oooh-oooh-I-know-the-answer” overachiever running unchallenged for student-council president, unleashes the wounded resentments of high school teacher and student-council adviser Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) in this inspired satire. ”Mr. M.” realizes he has had enough teenage go-getterness to last a lifetime and gets busy doing what he can to thwart Tracy’s bright-eyed rise.
Alexander Payne’s scathing, subtle, and complexly funny tragicomedy builds a perfect, off-kilter universe — it’s a first cousin to ”Rushmore”. And like Payne’s 1996 gem ”Citizen Ruth”, it’s a sophisticated morality tale. The production benefits terrifically from Witherspoon’s great, steely performance, which inspires Broderick’s striking, career-deepening turn as a sneaky adult.
The supporting characters are vital and vivid: Tracy’s tightly plotted game plan is jostled by 11th-hour competition from a sweet football player (newcomer Chris Klein) and his far more complicated lesbian sister (another newcomer, Jessica Campbell), who is, truly, way too cool for school.