About 25 years ago, Tom Perrotta published Election, inspired by both the 1992 Presidential election and a controversial homecoming election. In 1992, a student, April Schuldt, was five months pregnant when running for Homecoming Queen at her school in Eau Claire, Wis. Well, the principal forced other school officials to rig the election and even burn the ballots in favor of her after the final tally concluded she had won. It resulted in the principal resigning and was a small scandal that got airplay on TV news here and there.
Election was the story of a precocious but cunning student named Tracy Flick who wanted to be Student Council President so badly. However, the advisor, Mr. M., as he is called, is upset over Tracy running unopposed, he convinced the star football player, Paul Warren to run against her. And Paul’s lesbian sister, Tammy, also runs when her crush, Lisa, begins to date Paul. Both the book and especially the movie, made by Alexander Payne starring Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Klein, was a biting satire of not just general politics but high school politics and social standing.
The novel ends with Mr. M. loosing his job after he tosses two ballots into the trash for Tracy which makes it appear Paul is the winner. They are later found. Tracy had been preyed on by a fellow teacher who was a friend of Mr. M. The novel ending with Tracy realizing in her senior year that there’s more important things and she visits Mr. M. working at a car dearlership and asks him to sign her yearbook because she wasn’t too popular after all.
The movie ended with Mr. M. (Broderick) spotting Tracy (Witherspoon) interning for a Congressman while taking a tour of Washington, D.C. and throwing his drink at the limo as it drives away, even though they tried to follow the book’s ending but test audiences didn’t like it. The movie got great reviews for both Broderick and Witherspoon and put Payne on the map as a filmmaker. It also put Perrotta on the map and his other novels, Little Children, The Leftovers and Mrs. Fletcher have been adapted into movies or TV series.
Sometimes, it’s best to leave the future unwritten. Tracy Flick Can’t Win focuses on Tracy, now an assistant principal at a high school in New Jersey. Perrotta set the novel in his home state of New Jersey while Payne set the movie in his home state of Nebraska. Tracy has a teenage daughter from a previous relationship but isn’t married and has no desire to be in relationships. She went to Georgetown Law School but had to drop out when her mother feel ill and later died.
Returning to the high school setting seems depressing. Tracy isn’t the same person she was. I doubt Tracy, who was determined, would’ve dropped out of law school completely even if her mother was sick. And her mother would’ve made her go return. The plot revolves around Tracy wanting to move up to principal as the current principal Jack Weede is being forced to retire as his health and years are catching up on him.
But Tracy is having to deal with the politics of the school board, who really don’t see her as the right choice. The school is also trying to implicate a Hall of Fame ceremony but the front runner for the honor seems to be a washed out alum who was once a professional football player but not anymore. I’m not going to lie, the plot is dull and boring. The characters don’t stand out as much as they did in Election. I found myself flipping through previous chapters to remind myself who was who.
I feel that Perrotta has been hounded for 20 years to write a sequel but didn’t want to so he just decided to give us some boring story filled with dated high school cliches. The return to the high school setting seems like a disappointment. Perrotta could’ve had some fun showing Tracy as a lawyer or something else besides an assistant principal no one likes. And the ending in my opinion seems to be in poor taste.
What do you think? Please comment.