What's the difference between morals and ethics? This is the main theme of Alexander Payne's 1999 comedy starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Payne has built a reputation as one of the premier American directors working today. His films are character driven comedies that are often painfully awkward and above all human and truthful.
Morals are defined as a person's standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do. While ethics are moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior. Matthew Broderick who plays Jim McAllister a high school history teacher who is about to have his morals and ethics challenged by the overly ambitious Tracy Flick played by Reese Witherspoon. Every school has a Tracy Flick, that feisty overachiever who knows how to get what they want and look good doing it. The upcoming student body presidential campaign will be a fight for the ages and not for the faint of heart. As with all politicians, Tracey's morals and ethics are a bit questionable. Mr. McAllister's hatred of her grew out of an illicit affair that happens between
Tracy and another teacher, Mr. Novotny. The whole incident was kept relatively quiet, but Novotny was fired and his life was destroyed. Initially, Tracy was running unopposed but Mr. McAllister wanted to knock this uppity bitch down a peg so he encourages football player Paul (Chris Klein) to challenge her. Paul recently fractured his leg and is unable to play leaving him to wonder about his future. Paul is a gentle and likable guy but a little dumb, kind of the George W. Bush of the whole election group.
The story gets even more involved as Paul's sister Tammy, who likes girls, has a falling out with her best girlfriend who then as an act of revenge starts to date Paul. Fed up with all this Tammy decides to run for president too except as an anti-candidate who wants to abolish all high school government. Mr. McAllister's boring home life is about to get a little more interesting as he contemplates moving in on Novotny's wife Linda. McAllister's increasingly bad decision making leads to some painfully funny and awkward moments.
When election day finally arrives and things don't go as planned Mr. McAllister will do whatever it takes to crush the dreams of Tracy Flick. Eventually, he has to answer for his severe breach of political ethics and personal morality leaving him to re-evaluate his life and to finally move and to start over again.