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  Rushmore Lessons Learned
Year: 1998
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Connie Nielsen, Luke Wilson, Dipak Pallana, Andrew Wilson, Marietta Marich, Ronnie McCawley, Keith McCawley, Hae Joon Lee
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is a fifteen-year-old student at Rushmore, a private school catering for the more wealthy or gifted child, except that while he has certain talents, his grades are not exactly spectacular. Indeed, they're so poor that the head of the school, Dr Guggenheim (Brian Cox), is threatening him with expulsion if he doesn't improve. The trouble is, Max loves being at Rushmore because it means he can indulge himself in the clubs and extracurricular activities there, many of which he has instigated, but this also means he has little time for his studies. So what does he do?

He develops a damaging crush on the new first grade teacher, of course. This was a tale of a downward spiral for Max, but it was a story of success for its director, Wes Anderson, who co-wrote with actor (though not in this) Owen Wilson, as after his debut Bottle Rocket generated minor waves, it was Rushmore that really made his name, even though it was not a huge hit by any means, and didn't appeal to everyone. Nevertheless, it was distinctive enough to create a fan following among those who enjoyed a method of bringing his fiction to the screen that was among the most obviously authored of his era.

So much so that by the time his later films were being released, everyone who had followed his career pretty much had the measure of his style, his dialogue, his way with actors, and there were even those complaining that we'd seen it all before, Wes, change the record. This put Rushmore in the intriguing position of being the one movie in his body of work that could be pointed to and said it was there that he got his mixture of comedy and pathos correct, as if it was the acclaim that greeted it that Anderson was trying to recreate forever more. That would, of course, be unfair to some extent, because his next films would go on to be bigger successes.

But were they bigger successes artistically? There's a curious quality to Rushmore in that while it seems to be about something, the disappointments of life or whatever, it was actually oddly vague on the finer points of its message, if there were any concrete message at all. Max is undergoing one of those rites of passage yarns so beloved of American filmmakers, and learning that he cannot have life all his own way no matter how hard he tries because other people always have to be factored into the equation, so all the organisation in the world won't necessarily mean satisfaction when the others have their own needs as well. Take the teacher he falls for, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams in as much a star-making part as Schartzman's was): even if there was not the age difference, she would still be out of his league.

Max won't be told, though, and drafts in his new friend, dejected millionaire businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray, ideal) to back him up in his pursuit which predictably leaves Rosemary falling for the older man, and less predictably torment for all three. Max's frustration and determination build, combining to shipwreck his life and the lives of Rosemary and Blume, but what precisely Anderson and Wilson felt about him was obscure. Sure, we're meant to laugh at his ridiculous ambitions, but in effect the poker face of the movie is sustained to the very last shot, leaving us to make our own minds up whether the teen lead is worthy of pity, admiration or if he's just plain pathetic, as Blume is. What saves this is a selection of moments of deadpan humour, with Max's absurd, movie-inspired plays (Serpico?), the longsuffering nature of many of the characters which engages, and the whimsy of hope that keeps them going, if only just out of reach. The sixties beat groups on the soundtrack only add to the air of poignancy. Other music by Mark Mothersbaugh.

[The Criterion Blu-ray has the following features:

Digital transfer of the director's cut, supervised by director Wes Anderson, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
Audio commentary featuring Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson and actor Jason Schwartzman
The Making of "Rushmore," an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary by Eric Chase Anderson
Max Fischer Players Present, theatrical "adaptations" of Armageddon, Out of Sight and The Truman Show, staged for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards
Episode of The Charlie Rose Show featuring Wes Anderson and actor Bill Murray
Audition footage
Wes Anderson's hand-drawn storyboards, plus a film-to-storyboard comparison
Original theatrical trailer
Collectible poster
PLUS: An essay by film critic Dave Kehr.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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