Posted on Friday, May 13th, 2011 by Peter Sciretta
One of my favorite films of the 1990′s is Alexander Payne‘s brilliant dark comedy Election starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.
For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Broderick stars as a high school civics teacher named Jim McAllister who will not let the school’s annoying overachieving honor student Tracy Flick (Witherspoon) run unopposed for student body president. He convinces popular varsity football player Paul Metzler (a breakout performance from Chris Klein) to run for president as well, and anything and everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. While the film did well critically (Witherspoon’s performance was voted the 45th Greatest Movie Performances of All Time by Premiere Magazine, and the film was ranked at #9 on Entertainment Weekly’s 50 Best High School Movies) and was even nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, I run into a lot of film fanatics who have never seen this film (if you’re a member of this group, I strongly encourage you to rent or buy it).
I’ve watched the film countless times, and have even seen the movie three times on the big screen. I was surprised to learn that the film’s ending was not what was originally intended/written/filmed. The DVD release of the movie contains no deleted ending, and in doing research for this post, I couldn’t even find a reference to an alternate ending for this movie anywhere on the web. But it exists — /Film reader John G sent me a link to the six-minute original ending sequence, which had been recently uploaded to YouTube. This footage was reportedly discovered on an unlabeled VHS tape containing an early work print of the film, sold at a local flea market. Watch the sequence embedded after the jump.
Note: If it isn’t already obvious, its probably not worth watching unless you’ve seen the movie (and yes, spoilers).
In this never-before-seen ending, Jim McAllister does not move to New York City and have a final encounter with Tracey while visiting Washington, DC. Instead, Mr. McAllister becomes a car salesman who gets a last-minute visit from Tracy before she leaves for college. This ending doesn’t work, in every possible way, although I can see what Payne was going for (we even get another reference to trash, a visual motief spread throughout the film).
Apparently they screened the film with this ending and the conclusion tested horribly. I heard that they sat on this ending for almost a year, before deciding to reshoot the ending as a more cynical epilogue. The film is based on a novel by author Tom Perrotta, who also wrote the book and screenplay for Todd Field’s oscar-nominated 2006 film Little Children. I had never read Perrotta’s original novel, but it turns out it included the ending with Mr. M working in car dealership. While I much prefer the theatrical ending that was raptured in additional photography, I’m glad this version has ended up online for all to see. It goes to show you that sometimes art needs time to take shape, even in film. And yes, rarely, test screening prompted reshoots can result in a much better film.
And just in case you are unable to read what Jim write at the end of the scene (the VHS transfer is pretty crappy), here is an excerpt from the original screenplay:
CLOSE ON JIM He looks at the yearbook. He looks at Tracy. He looks out the windshield. It's all so odd. CLOSE ON THE BLANK PAGE JIM begins to write: "Dear Tracy,"