Retro Film Review: Rushmore (1998)



In late 1990s most of Hollywood films were - just as they are now - “safe”, predictable, formulaic and utterly forgettable. This was especially so when the plots were set in or around high schools or adolescents. So, whenever a Hollywood film set in high school would dare to break such constraints, it was bound to be treated by everyone, especially critics, as something very special. Rushmore, 1998 comedy directed by Wes Anderson, is one of those films.

The protagonist of the film is Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzmann), 15-year old pupil of the elite Rushmore prep school. By all standards, Max is extraordinarily gifted and charming young man who excels in all kinds of activities – fencing, debating clubs and theatre, where he wrote and staged couple of ambitious plays. Unfortunately, his impressive record at extracurricular activities was achieved at the expense of his academic life – he is about to be expelled because of abysmal grades. However, Max has one important asset in the form of Herman Blume (played by Bill Murray), local tycoon and former Rushmore pupil who sees Max Fischer as the complete opposite of his own obnoxious sons. However, Max would soon realise that there limits to what he can do when he falls in love with Rosemary Cross (played by Olivia Williams), teacher whom he would try to impress by building a luxury aquarium at the school premises. Max is finally being expelled and Rosemary not only rejects his advances, but adds insult to injury by starting relationship with Herman. Hurt and humiliated, Max would use his talents in the increasingly brutal conflict with his former friend.

Anderson based his script, co-written by Owen Wilson, on the elements of his own biography, but the film itself looks almost surreal. The world of Rushmore is populated with quirky characters that are hard to find in real world. It is nevertheless very personal film, and that sets it apart from most of Hollywood films with similar themes and settings.

Very personal approach could be seen in the way Anderson broke certain Hollywood conventions. For example, the protagonist is not protagonist in the strict meaning of the word – his actions and motivations put him far away from the conventional moral alignment. He is selfish, megalomaniacal, ruthless and his personality is closer to the psychopath than “normal” human being. Perhaps this is the reason why the audience would prefer to root for the more “normal” and humane character of Herman, brilliantly played by Bill Murray in one of the best and most underrated roles of his career.

Anderson, just as he did with characterisation, experimented with style and atmosphere. Although set in present-day, Rushmore looks very much like late 1960s film and the soundtrack featuring songs of that period is one of the reasons for that. However, editing left something to be desired, especially in the middle of the film, which looks too “artsy” and overlong. It seems that Anderson, at least at that point, preferred the style to film’s substance.

But, this is not the reason why film shouldn’t be remembered. There are some marvellous images in the film, especially in the scenes in which the protagonist recreates some of film classics – like Lumet’s Serpico and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now – on stage. Rushmore might not be the funniest or even the best film of its time, but it is nevertheless refreshing experience for any viewer demanding something unconventional on screen.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on March 25th 2005)

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