Rushmore is an offbeat coming-of-age story about Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman) a high school student who simultaneously overachieves and underachieves. Outside of the classroom, this is someone who is either the founder or president of over a dozen school clubs. He’s the type of person whose résumé could be made up solely of his extra-curricular activities. His marks, however, suffer as a result of this ambition. He’s a brilliant person, but he doesn’t have the time or the care to get good grades at the prestigious Rushmore Academy.
A library book leads Max to a first-grade teacher, Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams). He falls in love almost instantly. One of his pet projects involves attempting to build an aquarium at the school. For this, he turns to a wealthy man, Mr. Blume (Bill Murray). Would you believe at this point that a love triangle occurs? Because that’s exactly what happens. As soon as Mr. Blume and Ms. Cross meet, you can see in their eyes that the youngest member of this trio isn’t going to be excluded from any romance.
The film takes a couple of different turns from there, eventually taking us down a road that’s a lot of fun. Rushmore is a comedy, and much of the dialogue and many of the situations are quite funny. When smart characters get together — and the three most prominent ones most certainly are that — the dialogue is always going to be interesting. Seeing Max and Mr. Blume try to outdo one another and win Ms. Cross’ affection, or just talk about anything, really, could fill an entire film.
There’s a story about redemption, a story about growing up, a story about manipulators and about letting go. There is a lot of content in this relatively short movie, and it maintains interesting throughout its duration. Rushmore marks director Wes Anderson’s second feature film, and it’s an improvement over his debut, Bottle Rocket, in that it doesn’t drag whatsoever in its second act. It also has more to do and has a more interesting story to tell, in large part because it’s more focused on one person as opposed to a twosome.
The characters help to make it interesting, too. Max and Mr. Blume have so many parallels to note as the film goes along, and trying to see all of those will keep you busy. The performances given — especially the one by Bill Murray — have the perfect amount of disdain and adoration. You see Murray, for example, give a single look at Schwartzman, and you know exactly how his character is feeling at that given moment: he hates the 15-year-old but also sees so much of himself in the high schooler.
Max is a character who is not necessarily likable. He’s quirky and unconventional, but he’s also manipulative and selfish. He’s not a bad person, per se, but he’s not the type of person you want to root for. He grows over Rushmore‘s duration. Teenagers are often like Max, and because this is a coming-of-age story, one can assume he does some growing up along the way. The development is natural and doesn’t feel forced, and some life lessons could be taken from the film if one happened to find him or herself in Max’s position.
Much like Bottle Rocket before it, Anderson’s film has been co-written with Owen Wilson. The pair has made another film whose dialogue is always a pleasure to listen to. They create interesting characters who have things to say and the intelligence to say them, and that’s something that can always be appreciated. The plot is another conventional one but it is done in a way that makes it feel fresh. The eccentricity helps eliminate any feeling of the material being stale.
The cinematography of Rushmore shows unwavering clarity and a keen eye for composition. Backgrounds seem to go on forever, and the majority of the shots in the film are simply nice to look at. They ground great situations, characters, and dialogue. Rushmore truly is a full package film. There isn’t a single element that isn’t done well, if not extremely well, and it’s difficult to even think of nitpicks with it. It’s that good.
In terms of performances, the two standouts are Schwartzman and Murray. I’ve already talked about Murray and his ability to convey multiple things at once, but Schwartzman plays the protagonist and has a great deal of weight placed on his shoulder as a result. It makes it an even harder task that his character does not begin the film as terribly likable, meaning he has to be charismatic enough for us to stay with him but also slimy and manipulative at the same time. This, like the Wilson brothers in Bottle Rocket, marks Schwartzman’s acting debut, and it’s a good one.
Rushmore is a great film. It does so many things correctly and I can’t think of any area where it missteps enough to be worth a mention. It has complex characters, good topics of discussion, interesting dialogue, strong performances, beautiful cinematography, and it doesn’t drag for even a moment. This is the type of film that you watch and then re-watch because it’s so good. Rushmore is definitely something that you need to see, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.