Published December 1, 1998
Rushmore, directed by Wes Anderson is a wonderfully strange movie whose strangeness is what makes it worth seeing. Its main character is Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a precocious 15-year old student at a posh prep-school called Rushmore Academy. He is there on scholarship as his father, wonderfully played by Seymour Cassel is a barber who clearly looks with admiration and awe upon his talented and brainy son. But Max is unfortunately not nearly so talented in his academic work as he is as a mover and operator in practically every extracurricular club and society that Rushmore has to offer. In fact, he spends all his time in extracurricular activities and flattering the sexy divorced mother of his younger “chapel partner,” Dirk (Mason Gamble), in the vain hope of receiving romantic, or at least sexual, attention from her. As a result, he has to be placed on “sudden death academic probation” by the headmaster, Dr Guggenheim (Brian Cox).
At about the same time he meets the millionaire father of two of his most mindless and moronic classmates, a sad but very funny guy called Mr Blume (Bill Murray), and a very attractive young widow called Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) who teaches first grade in the school and upon whom he immediately develops a monster crush. Mr Blume is impressed by Max’s entrepreneurial and managerial talents and offers him a job while Miss Cross, thinking the disparity in their ages too obviously a romantic obstacle to be worried about him, consents to be Max’s friend. But soon she has to be more openly and brutally discouraging to him and, to make matters worse, begins an affair with Mr Blume, whom Max now regards as his mortal enemy.
What I liked about his film was its portrait of youth against type. Max with his thick glasses and his obvious self-identification with the stuffy prep-school and its traditions is bravely and unashamedly uncool. When Mr Blume, who is as lost a soul as only Bill Murray can make him, asks Max “What’s the secret?” since he, Max, seems to have “got it figured out,” Max tells him: “Find what you like to do and do it for the rest of your life. For me it’s going to Rushmore.” Is this guy for real? Moreover, where it seems to be the ambition of everyone in America born since the war to remain a child for as long as possible, Max can’t wait to grow up. Indeed, he stubbornly refuses to recognize that he is not already grown up, and the equal of Mr Blume in rivalry for Miss Cross’s affections. Here is a film which presents us with an image of American adolescence which is the more compelling as it is patently unreal.
I think in the end the film is a little too busy, with stories about Dirk and his mother, a bully called Buchan (Stephen McCole) and a girl called Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka) too often tending to trip over one another and the main narrative lines. In particular, I think we see too little of Margaret, who seems an interesting character in her own right, and not enough is made of Max’s brief sojourn in a public school. But these are minor quibbles, and I have to say that I enjoyed the thing from beginning to end.