Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Rushmore

By Marc Savlov

FEBRUARY 8, 1999: 

D: Wes Anderson; with Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Luke Wilson. (R, 93 min.)

There's something about Jason Schwartzman's face in Rushmore that makes you want to punch him or hug him -- you're never quite sure which. It's a face that demands a reaction, even while it stares out coolly from beneath the oily brow, assessing the possibilities before it. As Max Fischer, a 10th-grade student at Rushmore Academy, Schwartzman is the underachieving soul of academia, his plate piled high with extracurricular activities (French Club, Fencing Club, Double-Team Dodgeball Society, and founder of the Max Fischer Players) but with little else. His entire life is built on schemes, dreams, and ambitions that realistically should have no part in his life (upon graduating from Rushmore, he's chosen to attend Oxford, with Harvard as his "safety"), and when he falls in love with widowed first-grade teacher Miss Cross (Williams) everything becomes that much more complicated. It's about this time that Max also meets Rushmore alum Herman Blume (Murray), a crinkled, sallow industrialist whose faded dreams of Rushmore past have been replaced by a sterile home life composed of a fatuous trophy wife and a pair of zombified hooligans for children. In Max, Blume sees himself as he used to be, and in Blume, Max sees a chance to perhaps win the heart of Miss Cross. With funding from Blume, Max begins work on a planned aquarium above the baseball field. For his effort, and due, in large part to his flagging academic standing (his Max Fischer Players production of Serpico obviously isn't being taken into consideration here), Max finds himself banished to public school. To make matters infinitely worse, Blume has fallen in love with Miss Cross, and Max's best friend, fourth grader Dirk Calloway, is on the outs after hearing how Max off-handedly bragged about getting some play in the back seat of his mother's convertible. Anderson sets up this conflict of wills -- Max vs. Blume -- in a sort of surrealist, academic omniverse. Although the film was shot in Houston at St. John's Academy (Anderson's alma mater), Rushmore as a film exists out of time and place, locked into a vaguely Sixties-ish groove that's only heightened by Schwartzman's dank locks and Anderson's choice of a uniformly British Invasion soundtrack. If anything, this outré, wildly original piece of cinema recalls Mike Nichols' The Graduate, especially in one scene in which the estranged Blume takes a solo cannonball into his family's pool and rests, silently, on the bottom, observing. Featuring Schwartzman, Williams, and Cassel (as Max's father), Rushmore is filled with brilliant, stand-out performances. But it is Murray who thrills here like he hasn't done in years. Murray's quiet, reserved, and droll wit is always at the ready and Rushmore offers him the opportunity to flex his chops and kick into laconic high gear. It's a wonder watching this comic stylist come back into the fore, especially in a film like this.
4.0 stars

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