RUSHMORE is the story of a gifted, rebellious teenager named Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a 10th grader at elite Rushmore Academy. Editor of the school newspaper, captain or president of innumerable clubs and societies, Max is also one of the worst students in the school, and the threat of expulsion hangs permanently over his head. Max's world is rocked when he falls for elegant 1st grade teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) and he plans to erect an aquarium in her honor -- then finds himself competing for her affections with his friend, steel tycoon Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), the wealthy father of two of his classmates.
Wes Anderson's follow-up to the quirky Bottle Rocket
is a wonderfully unorthodox coming-of-age story that ranks with Harold and Maude
and The Graduate
in the pantheon of timeless cult classics. Jason Schwartzman (son of Talia Shire and nephew of Francis Coppola) stars as Max Fischer, a 15-year-old attending the prestigious Rushmore Academy on scholarship, where he's failing all of his classes but is the superstar of the school's extracurricular activities (head of the drama club, the beekeeper club, the fencing club...). Possessing boundless confidence and chutzpah, as well as an aura of authority he seems to have been born with, Max finds two unlikely soulmates in his permutations at Rushmore: industrial magnate and Rushmore alumnus Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and first-grade teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). His alliance with Blume and crush on Miss Cross, however, are thrown out of kilter by his expulsion from Rushmore, and a budding romance between the two adults that threatens Max's own designs on the lovely schoolteacher.
Never stooping to sentimentality or schmaltz, Anderson and cowriter Owen Wilson have fashioned a wickedly intelligent and wildly funny tale of young adulthood that hits all the right notes in its mix of melancholy and optimism. As played by Schwartzman, Max is both immediately endearing and ferociously irritating: smarter than all the adults around him, with little sense of his shortcomings, he's an unstoppable dynamo who commands grudging respect despite his outlandish projects (including a school play about Vietnam). Murray, as the tycoon who determinedly wages war with Max for the affections of Miss Cross, is a revelation of middle-aged resignation. Disgusted with his family, his life, and himself, he's turned around by both Max's antagonism and Miss Cross's love. Williams is equally affecting as the teacher who still carries a torch for her dead husband, and the superb supporting cast also includes Seymour Cassel as Max's barber father, Brian Cox as the frustrated headmaster of Rushmore, and a hilarious Mason Gamble as Max's young charge. Put this one on your shelf of modern masterpieces. --Mark Englehart