The corrupt: Jim McAllister in Election (1999)
The perfect companion piece to the iconic Ferris Bueller. Here we get to see Broderick play a character at the opposite end of the spectrum. Bueller was an exuberant livewire beating the system but the vanilla, sensibly dressed McAllister in his nerdy car is the loser that always gets caught.
And the reason for his downfall?
A certain tank top-clad student by the name of Tracy Flick (a superb Reese Witherspoon).
Oh yeah, there’s also his shaky grasp of morality.
The married, outwardly respectable McAllister, you see, is a hypocrite. In a voiceover he tells us: “I loved my job. I was a teacher, an educator, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It wasn’t just a job. I cared… Teaching was all I ever wanted to do. Standing in front of a room full of young people, trying to get them excited about the world, trying to make them think, preparing them for the tough moral and ethical decisions they’d face as adults.”
So far, so impressive. Shame about his secret porn stash, the determined attempt to fuck his best mate’s wife, and his long simmering bid to sabotage the ghastly Flick becoming student president.
“Who knew how high she would climb in life?” he muses. “How many people would suffer because of her? I had to stop her.”
Of course, the dully-titled Election is so well-written and performed that we’re on McAllister’s side. He’s right. The overachiever Tracy Flick is an unbearable bitch, but he’s a role model and has to play by the rules. In a sense, Tracy is the Ferris Bueller character here. She’s bulletproof, a winner that’s always gonna get her way. The increasingly bitter McAllister, on the other hand, gets fucked over by everything from a bee to a vending machine, eventually suffering an Ed Rooney-like disintegration.
Election gets my vote (groan) as one of the 90s best dark comedies.
The drunken: Martin in Another Round aka Druk (2020)
I once stumbled into a classroom full of kids with a bad hangover. After a torturous day in which there was nowhere to hide from their relentless demands, I vowed never to make the same mistake. However, it took Another Round for me to truly understand my error. I’d turned up hung-over when I should’ve tried teaching while still drunk.
For that’s what Martin (Mads Mikklesen) puts to the test after learning of an egghead’s theory that we’re born with a blood-alcohol deficiency of 0.05 per cent. All that’s needed to relax and be more creative is a top-up of booze. Martin, who has been boring his history students stupid while drifting away from his wife and kids at home, decides this tiny bit of cheating will give him the leg up he desperately needs. He also convinces three close colleagues to join in the unconventional experiment.
I have to say Another Round has a nice setup. Who doesn’t want to be squiffy at work? Surely it would make stuff like dealing with the boss or the hoi polloi more bearable. But part of this flick’s strength is that it’s about far more than the way alcohol both enriches and undermines our lives. It also tackles depression, male camaraderie, the desire to escape responsibility, self-expression and that hoary old chestnut, the mid-life crisis.
Martin has clearly lost his spark, asking his missus if he’s become dull. “You’re not the same Martin I first met,” is her diplomatic reply. Later at a teacher mate’s 40th birthday party, he tearfully confesses: “I don’t know how I ended up like this.” Yeah, well, mate, we’ve all had that thought.
But once the experiment is underway, Martin is transformed. “I haven’t felt this good in ages,” he tells his similarly tipsy co-workers. “Something’s happening, even when I’m sober.” Before long, however, he comes up against that age-old problem; no matter how much anyone practices with alcohol, it’s impossible to stay in control. Just think back over your own life and re-imagine those times when things could have been so different. There you are at the third drink having a great time, winning friends and influencing people, but somewhere after the tenth you’ve become argumentative, abused a mate, thrown a punch, split your pants, puked on the begonias, fondled a Chihuahua and been arrested for pissing in the street.
Another Round is a fine black comedy/drama from Denmark with plenty of non-judgmental home truths. It’s food for thought, all right, perhaps best considered with a beer in your hand. Mikkelsen is excellent, his performance on a par with that endearing pisshead Michael Caine in the university-flavored Educating Rita.
The sexy: Sergeant Debbie Callahan in Police Academy (1984)
Sporting an awe-inspiring chest, steely voice and commanding persona, cadets have no choice but to obey the Amazonian Sgt. Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook). Introduced in a red tracksuit with her splendid blonde mane hidden under a baseball cap, it’s not hard to tell she’s a no-nonsense kind of girl. She will run you into the ground or sit-up you to death, all the while demanding: “I want more!” Later, one Casanova cadet meets his match while repeatedly calling her ‘sir’ and having to submit to her forthright charms.
Boy, there’s a weird dichotomy going on here. Sgt. Callahan is more of a man than I’ll ever be yet couldn’t be more feminine.
Her best scene arrives during a preparatory self-defense class. With hands on hips she confidently paces before the motley crew of wannabe cops. “You will learn to defend yourselves without a stick or firearm,” she insists. A knife-wielding ‘volunteer’ is selected. He ends up flat on his back pinned between her muscular thighs while staring goggle-eyed up at her mountainous cleavage. “That’s how it’s done,” she pronounces. “Who’s next?”
And, of course, every male cadet scrambles to be chosen. Our human beatbox Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow) even loses the power of language, reduced to imitating a puppy’s excited yaps.
The sexually twisted: Erika Kohut in The Piano Teacher (2001) and Barbara Covett in Notes from a Scandal (2006)
With her makeup-free face, scraped-back hair, dowdy dress, stern persona, high level of education and dank relationship with her prying mum, it’s plain to tell that Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a classic example of repressed female sexuality. It’s just a case of waiting to see how this fucked-up condition oozes out.
First, though, we have to sit through civilized piano recitals, discussions about Schubert, lots of technical appraisals, and her less than warm approach to her fellow teachers and cowed students. It’s noticeable how Erika never touches her pupils. Not one hug, not one shoulder rub, nothing. Affection is not her bag. Indeed, she’s a dream-crusher, wielding enormous power over the aspirations of her young charges.
Yeah, yeah, all very good, but when is this spinster gonna start chasing cock?
Oh, here we go.
She’s in a porn shop and all the other male customers are furtively looking at her. The odd thing is she appears unbothered. She’s got the same expression as when teaching. Does nothing penetrate that steely indifference? Now she’s in a locked cubicle watching hardcore stuff, transfixed by the footage of a supine woman on a table giving a blowey to a standing guy. Then Erika reaches into a wastepaper basket, retrieves a cum-soaked tissue and starts sniffing. Her eyelids flutter.
Well, at least that’s a reaction.
I think we’re also getting an idea she’s not your typical choccies and flowers kind of gal. And yes, I do enjoy how director Michael Haneke sets this perturbing scene to classical music. Well, who doesn’t like a bit of smut and refinement all mixed up, especially as it’s followed by self-harming with a razor blade in a bodily place you don’t even want to imagine?
Into this picture comes a handsome, supremely talented student who refuses to be put off by her harsh, joyless character. I dunno what he sees in her, especially as she’s determined to piss on his ardor, but I guess that’s the nature of love. Or sexual attraction. It’s not long before she’s feeling jealousy and other stuff her cloistered upbringing has given her no preparation for, emotions that only exacerbate her paraphilic behavior.
“I’ll write down what you can do to me,” she tells her new love in her dispassionate, controlling way. “All my desires on paper for you to peruse at your will.”
Margaret White, you have serious competition.
In Notes on a Scandal, aging history teacher Barbara Covett (a shrewish, chain-smoking Judi Dench) is almost as twisted, but lacks the courage to act on her sexuality. She prefers to simmer, snoop, wheedle, feast on distress, and do underhand shit. She’s the quietest of cancers.
We first meet her sitting alone with her arms folded on a park bench. There are children playing nearby while people walk their dogs. Life’s going on, you know, but it looks like it’s not coming anywhere near our warped lezzer-in-denial. Her sourness is soon made clear in a voiceover as she stares out of a school window watching pupils arrive: “The first day of a new term. Here come the local pubescent proles: the future plumbers, shop assistants and doubtless, the odd terrorist, too.”
Like The Piano Teacher’s fucked-up antagonist, we sense the cynical, jaded Barbara has been stewing in her own juices for a long time before someone arrives to shake things up. In Barbara’s case, it’s the glamorous new art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). To her surprise, Barbara grows to like her middle-class colleague, but it’s a fondness that can only expose her stalker tendencies and deep emotional immaturity. Barbara already scribbles in a diary every day like a lonely teenage girl; before long she’s saving a seat for her new bestie, fondling one of Sheba’s stray blonde hairs like it’s spun from gold, and seeing similarities that simply aren’t there. “I always knew we’d be friends,” she says. “Our mutual reserve inhibited us, but now it is manifest in spiritual recognition. S and I share the ability to see through the quotidian awfulness of things.”
But our misanthrope is too immature to handle an inevitable change in events and circumstances. The unpleasantness running through her lonely core is always going to win out against any superficial change in mood. And so when Sheba fucks up big time, Barbara turns into an emotional vampire, an arch manipulator with an insidious plan. “There was a magnificent opportunity here…” she muses. “I could gain everything by doing nothing… She’s the one I’ve waited for.”
Scandal might be packed with pathetic, unlikeable characters but it’s a fine, nuanced watch. It’s also a lot easier to digest than the grim, confrontational, overlong Piano Teacher. Both are wonderful adverts for embracing celibacy and becoming a hermit.