Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Gimme an R

By Susan Ellis

FEBRUARY 8, 1999:  In his sophomore year at a private school, Rushmore Academy, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is editor of the school newspaper and yearbook; he writes, produces, and acts in plays; he’s on the debate team, belongs to a beekeeping club as well as clubs for astronomy, fencing, skeet-shooting, chess, and more. He’s also on academic probation, and all this is just during September.

Max’s obsessiveness is what drives the offbeat and truly enjoyable comedy Rushmore, directed by Wes Anderson and co-written by Anderson and Owen Wilson (Bottle Rocket). The character of Max is not entirely likeable. He lies, is thoroughly conniving, is somewhat delusional, and is about two steps beyond the borderline of psychotic. But he is nothing if not persistent, and that makes him endearing. Max has met his match in Mr. Blume (a brilliant Bill Murray), a depressed steel tycoon and father to loutish twins who attend Rushmore. Max is taken by Mr. Blume’s give-them-the-finger address he delivered in the school’s chapel. Mr. Blume sees something in Max too, potential maybe, though probably it’s that he likes the kid’s recklessness.

In between all his extracurricular activities and a quick break to flip through the pages of Jacques Cousteau’s Diving for Sunken Treasure, Max finds time to fall in love. The object of his affection is Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), the academy’s first-grade teacher. That she’s roughly twice his age is a consideration, though not much of a concern for Max. To woo Miss Cross, he gets a check out of Mr. Blume to build an aquarium on the school’s grounds – the baseball diamond to be precise, without permission. Max is drummed out of his beloved Rushmore. But that’s not what’s most painful to him. The ultimate in hurt comes when he discovers that Mr. Blume and Miss Cross have taken up with each other.

So, as with all the school clubs and the aquarium, Max has another project: to destroy Mr. Blume and win back Miss Cross. Mr. Blume, however, is up to the challenge and is not above warring with a 15-year-old.

While a bitter feud between a middle-aged man and a teenager may strike some as distasteful (and it does, according to those overheard leaving the film’s preview, saying how much they hated it), it is exactly this sort of originality that makes Rushmore so worthwhile. There’s no stooping to cuteness for laughs as in other comedies such as You’ve Got Mail. With the writing and its performances, it doesn’t need to.

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