Directed by Wes Anderson
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson, Connie Nielsen, Ronnie McCawley, Keith McCawley.
1998 93 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and brief nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 13, 1999.
Perhaps it is wrong to label a film such as director Wes Anderson's "Rushmore" since it is such a completely original and thoroughly engaging motion picture that it does not really fall under any certain genre, but I will say that it is the best "coming-of-age" film since 1986's "Stand by Me" and "Lucas," and one of the few movies made recently that I would call magical in everything it does, and in all of its little details.
"Rushmore" stars Jason Schwartzman, making his feature film debut, in an Oscar-worthy performance as Max Fischer, a bespectacled 15-year-old whose great love in life is the exclusive private school he goes to called Rushmore, and who dedicates so much of his free time to numerous petty clubs (he especially likes his acting troupe, who perform productions such as "Serpico") that he is failing all of his regular classes. Although his father (Seymour Cassel) works as a barber, Max says that his father is a doctor so that he won't be looked upon as of a lower financial status. One day things brighten up for Max when one of Rushmore's various school speakers actually doesn't put him to sleep. His name is Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), and he is burdened with two obnoxious teenage twin sons and a wife whom is having an affair. Also coming into the story is the lovely Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), a first-grade teacher who Max falls helplessly in love with when he discovers she has checked out the library book that he holds as a sort of spiritual guidance, Jacque Cousteau's "Diving for Sunken Treasure." Miss Cross lets him know right off that they can only be friends since he is so much younger than she, but Max feels betrayed to find out that she is beginning to take a fancy to Mr. Blume.
A regular filmgoer may think that they know where this story is headed, but they would undoubtedly be wrong since "Rushmore" is such a complete and utterly unpredictable film, and one that more or less puts to shame such recent films about teenagers as "She's All That" and "Varsity Blues." "Rushmore," as in life, is a mixture of comedy and drama, of surprises and inevitability, and most importantly, is purely human. Somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned '80s gem, "Lucas," "Rushmore" is a movie that knows exactly how it is to be a teenager, with its air of uncertainties and disappointments, and its main character of Max is a likable, dedicated, but as all teens occasionally are, stubborn protagonist whom all audiences, ages 15 and up, should be able to wholeheartedly understand and sympathize with in his plight.
Wes Anderson made his directing debut in 1996's offbeat "Bottle Rocket," a film that I was not too fond of, but it was apparent that he did have an undeniable spark for filmmaking. With his sophomore effort, "Rushmore," Anderson has finally lived up to his full potential, also due to the absolutely wonderfully-written screenplay by Anderson and Owen Wilson, which does not take the easy route by setting up a simple, clear-cut story, but instead lets the characters and their predicaments naturally flow. By challenging us, we are never quite sure where everything is going, and how everything is going to end up, and it was refreshing to finally feel that way about a film, especially after just previously sitting through the soggy, cliche-ridden "Message in a Bottle."
How the performances, writing, and film itself could be snubbed by the Oscars is beyond me, but I suspect that "Rushmore" was too offbeat and intelligent of a film for those members obsessed with war movies and those set in the Elizabethan era. Schwartzman is spectacular and perfectly cast in the lead role as Max, and has a genuine and naturalistic quality about him that you don't often see in young actors. Meanwhile, Bill Murray has been gifted with a career-reviving role here as the wily, but good-natured Mr. Blume. Olivia Williams as the object of Max's affection, Miss Cross, is also given a fully-developed character that we are able to care about. She is a woman who does like Max, but not at all in a romantic way, and is faced with the no-win situation of having to crushing his heart. Finally, Sara Tanaka is a godsend as Margaret Yang, a kind, fetching teenage girl who does show a liking in Max even though he is too absorbed in Miss Cross to notice her much.
In the first half-hour of "Rushmore," I noted to myself that I liked the film a whole lot, although I doubted it would end up being what I considered great. In a twist of the usual film that starts off promisingly, only to crash-and-burn in its climax, "Rushmore" progressively got better and better, and emotionally more deep and touching, that by the picture's magnificent and entirely satisfying ending I had absolutely fallen in love with the film. Played to the perfectly-chosen song "Ooh-La-La," by The Faces, "Rushmore" concluded on the highest note possible, and left me feeling cleansed of all of the motion picture rubbish I have had the misfortune of enduring thus far in 1999. "Rushmore" is a splendidly-made motion picture in all respects, and one of 1998's very best films.
©1999 by Dustin Putman