A lovable nerd’s coming-of-age. Unrequited love. Schoolboy rebellion. A bizarre love triangle.
At first glance, it would seem that Rushmore (Touchstone) simply is pressing all the Hollywood buttons. Look again. Teeming with finely crafted characters, sincere and witty moments, and a deeper social commentary, this film is fresh, smart and uncommonly endearing.
Rushmore is the story of Max Fischer, a sophomore who is enormously enamored with his elite prep school, Rushmore Academy, and even more enamored with the beautiful and charming first-grade teacher there, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams, The Postman).
The 15-year-old Max (Jason Schwartzman) is an overly ambitious and imaginative geek. He’s spread himself so thin over extracurricular activities that he can’t maintain his marks – yet he lists Harvard as his “safety school.” He’s either the founder or an active member of everything from the Calligraphy Society to the Trap and Skeet Club. His drama club, the Max Fischer Players, performs his stage adaptations of shoot-’em-up movies such as Serpico.
In his pursuit of Miss Cross, Max forms an unusually buddy-like bond with the 40-year-old, dejected, Bentley-driving, Rushmore benefactor, Mr. Blume (Bill Murray, The Man Who Knew Too Little). Max attempts to pump the business tycoon for money for his latest fantastic scheme to attract Miss Cross’s attention and affection – installing an aquarium on the school’s baseball diamond. But, needless to say, the course of true love never did run smoothly – or whatever clich? proverb to which you subscribe. Thus, disappointment, revenge, loneliness and apologies ensue when Max’s mischief finally gets him expelled from his beloved Rushmore, and Mr. Blume ends up romantically involved with Max’s beloved Miss Cross.
In his portrayal of Max, the gifted Schwartzman demonstrates the craft and ingenuity of a silver screen veteran yet he possesses the purity and innocence of the 18-year-old newcomer that he is. He fully claims the geeky character, complete with braces, glasses and greasy hair, revealing tinges of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye and shades of Dawn Weiner in Welcome to the Dollhouse.
Writers Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson skillfully develop the bond between Schwartzman’s character and Murray’s Mr. Blume. It’s as if Mr. Blume’s despondence and lack of confidence are answered perfectly by Max’s cocky ambition. Murray and Schwartzman have great on-screen chemistry, making their unusual, and unbelievable, friendship seem real and sincere.
With a cigarette perpetually dangling from his lips, Murray fills Mr. Blume with great complexity and depth. It seemed as if this smirking “Saturday Night Live” alumnus might never land another decent script – case in point: Larger Than Life and The Man Who Knew Too Little. But it appears that this role allows Murray to fully employ his intense yet subtle comedic style. No nuance of this character is unexplored. It’s no wonder Touchstone opened this movie for a short run in December to qualify Murray for 1998 award nominations.
Anderson and Wilson have graduated from their funny yet unpolished 1996 cinematic debut Bottle Rocket. Rushmore overflows with nuggets of sharp wit and bright insights. This film will surely establish itself as an instant classic.