Rushmore single handedly launched the mainstream career of director Wes Anderson and his star Jason Schwartzman. Not to be left unmentioned, this film also provided a much needed jumpstart towards the end of a disappointing decade for Bill Murray. While Rushmore is not Anderson’s first film, it is his most groundbreaking.
At the surface, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), does not look like anything that you might describe as a troubled youth. He has founded or is the president of various clubs and organizations at the prestigious Rushmore private academy. Young Max soon learns that his excessive load of extracurricular activities has led him to become the most academically delinquent students at Rushmore. Soon after, Max meets a first year teacher named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). He is immediately intrigued by both her and her late husband, who founded most of the clubs at Rushmore. Max pushes Rushmore out of the way for a new love, Mrs. Cross.
While giving a speech at Rushmore, a cynical Herman Blume (Bill Murray) persecutes those at Rushmore who have been handed life on a silver platter, and praises those who have had to work for things in life. Unhappy with his own life, including a distant wife and two spoiled sons who attend Rushmore, this negative speech came easy. Hanging onto Herman’s every word, Max introduces himself and the two end up finding themselves to be strangely similar.
For Max, things seem to be turning around. He has a new love, and a new friend who seems to appreciate his efforts outside of the classroom. But when a lonely Herman meets the lovely Mrs. Cross, Max’s new friends quickly become his enemies. Launching a series of childish pranks onto Herman, the two engage in a war for love and respect.
The beauty of Rushmore lies solely in the characters. We start with Max, which is the symbol of innocent and hopeful youth. Max is full of life and ambition, and starts failing classes in his desperate attempt to do everything and anything. His solitary flaw is his ambition. In contrast, Herman is a symbol of regret and discontent. Hope and dreams have long passed Herman who is now trapped in an ordinary life with his less than appealing family. After meeting the two lead characters, we meet the symbol of change Mrs. Cross. Mrs. Cross provides both characters with a new sense of direction, and new inspiration.
The movement through the film is highlighted creatively by velvet drapes that progressively display the following months. Beginning in the early fall, we see the characters change like the seasons. Both Herman and Max find themselves in a winter of discontent, and guide each other into a spring of new beginnings. Another contribution to the ambiance of the film is something that Anderson has almost become famous for, his ear for music. The music of Rushmore begins just as the story does, vibrant and hopeful. However, as Max starts to revolt and walk with a new-found bravado, the music reverts to a much more rebellious tone with some Punk and Brit invasion tunes. When the spring comes, Max is ushered into new beginnings by a perfectly placed Cat Stevens song. Throughout the entire film though Mark Mothersbaugh, who you might remember from Devo, garnishes the film with what Anderson calls “School Music.”
The performances from each character are simply magnificent. Bill Murray had never done better work (until Lost In Translation which oddly provided him with a similar role), especially in a dramatic role. Newcomer Jason Schwartzman epitomized Max Fischer from the inside out, and had me rooting for the resourceful underdog. A fifteen year old high school student and a wealthy steel tycoon forge one of the most unconventional friendships one could imagine, but their chemistry and charisma provide one of the most entertaining love quarrels in the history of cinema.
Rushmore quickly succeeded in launching Wes Anderson and Jason Schwartzman into the limelight, but also put some wind in the sails of Bill Murray who had really not done much in the decade besides Groundhog Day and What About Bob?. Through this experience, Anderson was able to develop a series of friendships that has allowed him to form the magnificent ensemble casts that his films have become famous for. It is hard to categorize a film such as Rushmore, because each character brings so much to the screen. At times the film is lighthearted and heartwarming, but can quickly switch to feeling tragic or comedic. As I mentioned earlier, the film moves gracefully through each season as does each character. The film is a poetic and beautiful statement about friendship and love, and should not be ignored.
The Criterion Collection DVD release is an absolute must. Criterion exists because of directors like Wes Anderson. The DVD is filled with special features such as theatrical adaptations of Armageddon, The Truman Show and Out of Sight shown during the MTV Movie Awards, to Bill Murray and Anderson being interviewed by Charlie Rose, and colorful illustrated inserts. This DVD would never disappoint any fan of the movie or Anderson. The transfer is as close to perfect as you can ask for, much to be expected with Criterion releases. The Criterion exclusive commentaries are both humorous and enlightening and provide a much needed explanation for some character nuances and set choices. The DVD is just as perfect as the film and is certainly the definitive version of the film.
The Upside: Undeniable chemistry between Murray and Schwartzman
The Downside: Not much
On the Side: The pictures of Ms. Cross’ dead husband in her bedroom are pictures of co-writer Owen Wilson
Final Grade: A