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Rushmore: Monumental Enjoyment

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 1999

  Movie Critic

Bill Murray (holding Sara Tanaka) stands between Jason Schwartzman and Olivia Williams. (Touchstone)

Wes Anderson
Jason Schwartzman;
Bill Murray;
Olivia Williams;
Seymour Cassel;
Brian Cox
Running Time:
1 hour, 33 minutes
Contains sexual scenes, obscenities, a nude picture and at least one bloody nose
In "Rushmore," 10th-grade student Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) takes his deeply held love for Rushmore Academy to almost-kamikaze lengths. And in the delightful hands of filmmakers Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, the team that gave you "Bottle Rocket," Max's obsessiveness becomes one sublimely demented, hilarious flight pattern.

Max has been on academic scholarship at Rushmore Academy ever since second grade, when he impressed Dean Guggenheim (Brian Cox) with a one-act play about Watergate.

He is rah-rah spirit gone kablooey. A budding playwright who lives for the extracurricular, he's active in every conceivable school club, including the Rushmore Beekeepers. He has applied to Oxford early, with Harvard as his safety. And he carries himself with the ambassadorial pompousness of an adolescent who simply had no time for childhood.

Too bad Max has just been placed on "sudden death academic probation." His grades stink. For all his potential, energy and charisma, Max cannot push his grades higher than a C. One more slip-up, says Dean Guggenheim, and he's out.

Max's flagging morale is boosted when he's befriended by Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a school benefactor who's something of a kindred spirit, and who seems willing to finance the student's wacky schemes. But his life turns somersaults when he falls in love with first-grade English teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). He feels a spiritual connection with Miss Cross because her name is on the list of previous checkouts for the Jacques Cousteau book, "Diving for Sunken Treasure," a tome he has adopted as a spiritual bible. True to his absurd way of reasoning, Max believes Miss Cross is part of his romantic future, whether she agrees or not.

"Max, you're 15 years old," says Miss Cross sweetly. "Attraction doesn't enter into it."

Max listens to more of her polite rebukes, concluding almost pathologically he has made great headway. "I'm glad we had this conversation," he says.

As with "Bottle Rocket," it's hard to explain why this movie is so enjoyable. It starts with Schwartzman, whose bespectacled, tight-lipped, blazer-and-tie presence suggests a preppie preemie sprung fully dressed from the womb. As Max, he perfectly embodies the bizarre timbre of this movie.

As Schwartzman's counterpoint, Murray is his wonderfully churlish self. He walks through "Rushmore" as he does most of his films: slightly disgusted and bemused by everything, creating comedy with the mere tone of his voice, a roll of his eyes, or an emphasis in some unexpected part of the sentence.

"Never in my wildest imagination did I dream I would have sons like these," he deadpans, as he watches his idiotic twin sons, Ronny and Donny Blume (played by Ronnie and Keith McCawley) wrestling each other in a school competition.

"Rushmore" is an almost indefinable genre of its own. A comedy with a menacing edge? An ironic romance? Hard to call. Anderson, the director and co-writer, and Wilson, co-writer, have a vision like no one else's. I put this down to being smart, witty and growing up in Texas. Any story that features a goofy playwright as the hero, whose dream is to make a school play about Vietnam, complete with helicopters, machine guns and "Vietnamese" extras, has something strange and wonderful going for it.

If Anderson and Wilson continue working together, they stand to carve themselves a special corner of their own, as the Coen brothers have. More power to them and movies like this – the ones you just can't pigeonhole.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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