USA, 1998. Rated R. 93 minutes.

Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Luke Wilson, Deepak Pallana, Andrew Wilson, Marietta Marich, Ronnie McCawley, Keith McCawley, Connie Nielsen
Writer: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh, Pete Townshend (additional songs)
Cinematographer: Robert D. Yeoman
Producers: Barry Mendel, Paul Schiff
Director: Wes Anderson


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

N ever have I been more acutely aware of the intrinsic subjectivity of movie criticism than when I sat through Rushmore, the story of an exceedingly eccentric fifteen year old boy named Max Fischer. Max is a student at the Rushmore Academy, where he coordinates a bevy of bizarre extracurricular activities, but fails to devote any time to his studies. When Max develops a crush on a first-grade teacher named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), his behavior grows even more erratic. Complicating matters further is Max's friendship tycoon Herman Blume (Bill Murray), who is almost as eccentric (albeit in a far more understated fashion) and also likes Rosemary.

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The critics have been ga-ga over this "intelligent, quirky comedy," and most of the other members of the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. I can't fault them, because Rushmore has a lot going for it. Nevertheless, it didn't work for me, and there are two reasons why.

First, there is nothing innately funny to me about precocious kids. Max parades about like an adult, and his first-grade sidekick Dirk (Mason Gamble) also behaves like a grown-up, taking dictation from Max and helping to coordinate his many ambitious endeavors. Of course, my lack of appreciation for precocious behavior is a matter of personal taste, so if the sight of kids dressing and talking like grown-ups makes you laugh, by all means, see Rushmore.

Second, director Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket) seems unable to decide what kind of a movie he is making. Jason Schwartzman as MaxMuch of the humor plays off of Max's absurd appearance and behavior. He wears glasses and bizarre headgear; he has bad hair and braces, and he always dresses in a blazer and tie, even after he's expelled from Rushmore and winds up in the public school system. Rushmore repeatedly flirts with becoming an all-out madcap farce, but always pulls back, as if to say, "No, wait, this isn't that kind of movie; this is an intelligent film." At the same time, Rushmore tries to be a serious exploration of the pitfalls of adolescence. (For an excellent analysis of these themes and a kinder review of Rushmore that suggests I've missed the boat completely, please read Jeff Vorndam's commentary.) The problem is that Max is too exaggerated a character to take seriously, and so a thoughtful investigation of his psyche is pointless. Rushmore unsuccessfully tries to meld highbrow satire and lowbrow farce, but it comes across too exaggerated for one and not exaggerated enough for the other.

Despite my misgivings, Rushmore is one of the more ambitious and worthwhile comedies of 1998. Just as the subtle but pervasive sense of absurdity was the chief asset of Bottle Rocket, Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson again show an original and unerring instinct for the ridiculous in Rushmore. Although the film as a whole doesn't gel, there are several genuinely funny moments. Many of them involve Bill Murray, who is almost by himself a reason to see Rushmore. As Blume, he's as immature as Max is (or, more accurately, tries to be) precocious. Murray is his typical self, which is to say that he spends his time onscreen looking slightly disgusted and deadpanning his lines. He's one of the best at eliciting a laugh with a simple facial expression or an odd vocal inflection. The star of the film, however, is unquestionably Jason Schwartzman, whose pompous haughtiness makes Max memorable, even if the character isn't someone in whom most of us can identify a part of ourselves. Clearly Schwartzman, the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, has a talent for comedy.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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