Rushmore

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

RUSHMORE

9/10

USA 1998, dir. Wes Anderson, 93m

Rushmore is an engaging and disarming character study of an engaging and disarming character: Max Fischer, a 16-year-old schoolboy who must rank as one of the most original protagonists in recent American cinema. Max is a scholarship pupil at Rushmore, a posh private academy on the outskirts of Houston. He’s undeniably bright (perhaps he’s even some kind of great-man-in-embryo) but devotes so much of his energies to extra-curricular school activities – he organises a bewilderingly vast range of clubs and societies, and adapts Hollywood movies such as Serpico for the drama group – that he’s in danger of flunking his studies and getting kicked out.

Part of the reason he wants to avoid this fate is his hopeless infatuation with a much older, widowed British teacher, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), as well as his constructive friendship with one of Rushmore’s main benefactors, discontented billionaire businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Things start to take unexpected twists, however, when Miss Cross falls in love – with Blume, to Max’s horror.

Max would be a dream role for any young actor, but Jason Schwartzman – son of Talia Shire, and therefore nephew of Francis Coppola and cousin of Nic Cage – fills his green velvet suit so perfectly you won’t be able to imagine anyone else playing the part. The movie would be unthinkable without his contribution, and he’s one of the crucial elements that makes Rushmore such an unexpected treat. Wes Anderson’s script (co-written with actor Owen Wilson, whose brother Luke appears in an amusing cameo) and direction are also spot on, but it’s his choice and deployment of music – mainly ‘British invasion’ classics from the late sixties, including Cat Stevens and The Who – that gives the film its real oomph.

Rushmore has a look, feel and sound all of its own – Anderson’s trademark shot is a near-symmetrical widescreen compositionswith a central figure up close to the camera. This never feels forced, but seems to emerge organically from the relationships between characters inside the cinematic world he’s brought to life: a vivid, unrecognisably wintry suburban Houston of dark browns and greens. Although the material has dark potential, the film on the whole remains refreshingly upbeat and optimistic – there’s no malice in any of the three central characters. It’s an unashamedly emotional piece of work that never straying across the line into mawkish sentimentality. It’s also very funny.

Rushmore isn’t easily classifiable – let’s call it a romantic high-school comedy-drama with music – which is probably why it never found much of an audience on initial release, either in the US (it was dealt a fatal blow at the box office when Bill Murray was unexpectedly omitted from the Oscar best supporting actor shortlist) or in Europe. But those of us who have seen it tend to rave about it, and the cult of Max Fischer will undoubtedly, and deservedly, continue to grow.

by Neil Young