Criterion // 1998 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // March 6th, 2000
All's fair when love is war.
Rushmore is a movie that is impossible to precisely define. Part tongue-in-cheek comedy, part coming of age drama, part mid-life crisis movie, Rushmore is a gentle exploration of flawed people searching for meaning and satisfaction in their lives. The film, along with a nice collection of extra content, is presented in commendable fashion by Criterion.
Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is a very peculiar 10th grade student at his prep school, Rushmore Academy. He is a constant bundle of energy, founding and leading a whole blizzard of extra-curricular clubs and plays, never quite satisfied for long. He's not necessarily a talent in any of these activities; he just throws himself into them with determined will. Having thus neglected his studies, Max finds himself on "sudden death" academic probation where one more failed class will lead to his expulsion. Max does not come from wealthy parents, only attending Rushmore thanks to an academic scholarship, but he has great dreams for himself. So when self-made business tycoon, and Rushmore alumnus, Herman Blume (Bill Murray) makes a speech to the school exhorting the poor students to put the rich ones "in [their] crosshairs" and "take them down," Max feels he has found his mentor. Mr. Blume seems oddly taken too, perhaps sensing the youth he yearns to regain.
Max's life takes an important turn when his desire to find the author of a quote scribbled in a book leads him to Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), a widowed and fetching 1st grade teacher at Rushmore. Infatuated at first glance, it seems as if winning her heart is going to be Max's latest project. Mr. Blume's life is far less optimistic, with an unfaithful wife and ungrateful children, and a dream that has become hollow. So, whenever energetic Max comes to him with a plan to construct an aquarium, born of his strategy to win Ms. Cross, Blume coughs up a modest check for plans, wondering what will come of it.
Max's campaign for Ms. Cross does not go well, when she (oblivious to his crush) introduces him to her boyfriend, Dr. Peter Flynn (Luke Wilson). Max does not take this at all well, but this meeting does far worse, for it brings Mr. Blume and Ms. Cross into contact. Even as Max is finally expelled from Rushmore and forced to attend public school at Grover Cleveland High, Mr. Blume secretly woos Ms. Cross, all the while maintaining friendship with both of them. When Max discovers the affair, he declares a sort of war with Mr. Blume. Ratting Blume out to his wife is only the start of a merry tit for tat between the pair in a delightful sequence. Max goes so far as to attempt to get Ms. Cross fired, only to find that she resigned of her own accord to avoid further troubles from her pair of suitors.
When he tracks her down, she forcefully dashes his hopes for the relationship he has sought, sending him away bitter and dejected, even more so when he makes a second attempt. Shot down again by Ms. Cross, Max is in a bit of a funk when Dirk Calloway's (Mason Gamble) exhortations and a chance encounter with Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka) snap Max back to life. Having turned Mr. Blume's life upside down, Max begins his comeback by reconnecting with his once-upon-a-time mentor and helping him back on his own resurgence. Max, with Mr. Blume's backing, goes all out to bring his aquarium to Rushmore's grounds while simultaneously arranging for the production of his latest play, the Vietnam War extravaganza "Heaven and Hell."
In a subtle way, Max arranges for the premiere of his opus to bring together nearly everyone who has touched his life throughout the course of the movie, but in particular he brings Ms. Cross and Mr. Blume to the point of reconciliation. As the film ends, we can't be sure whether Max will develop a true relationship with Margaret Yang, or remain stuck in love with Ms. Cross, but we know for certain that all parties are the wiser for their experiences.
With his creative reach into both the story and direction, Wes Anderson has not only set the course for Rushmore but he made sure it was smooth sailing. As Bill Murray mentions in his Charlie Rose show interview, Rushmore was the rare script where he had very little improvisation to do, the script was so good. The story is quirky with a very high score on the offbeat meter, so it's not going to be to everyone's tastes. At its heart, Rushmore is a genuine, rock-solid human life-story flavored with pathos and comedy and sprinkled with classic movie references.
The actors are largely unknown, but under Wes Anderson's quiet guidance he has drawn out fine performances. Bill Murray (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day) well deserved critical acclaim for his turn as Mr. Blume, showing that he can carry emotional drama and brilliant, dry comedy at the same time. That he was not even nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar is an unbelievable shame. Seymour Cassell, who first won notice under the American cinema verité pioneer John Cassavetes, shines as Max Fischer's serene, low-key barber father. Jason Schwartzman, nephew to Francis Ford Coppola and son of Talia Shire, is totally convincing as the big-talking, over-achieving prep student who retains our sympathy even in his darkest moments. His transition of Max from being embarrassed of his blue-collar father to being able to respect and admire him is touching.
Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, The Postman) is just pretty enough and reserved enough to be a credible crush for Fischer and Blume, but with the sweet good sense to shoot her suitors down when necessary. Of the rest, I must single out Mason Gamble (Arlington Road, Gattaca, Dennis the Menace) as a young actor with fine potential, based on his performance as Max Fischer's wiser-than-his-years friend and confidant.
The anamorphic video is quite good, as one might expect from a new director-supervised transfer of a modern film, even if it's not quite reference quality material. The colors are well saturated, blacks are solid, shadow detail is good, and there is very little dirt and defects. The slight negatives include an image that is not quite as crisp and clear as I would like, and a smattering of video noise.
The audio mix complements the story, with clean dialogue and a rocking British Invasion-heavy score. As you might expect from the nature of the beast, Rushmore has a forward soundstage, though it is full and rich through the sound spectrum. Rear surrounds and the subwoofer will see limited, supporting use for much of the film, but during the performance of "Heaven and Hell" you may just get blown out of your seats when all six channels get a vigorous workout.
I must say that the hand-drawn box artwork was a pleasant surprise for a disc from the usually more reserved folks at Criterion. It's even more interesting considering that everything is hand-drawn, right down to the tiny company logos and DVD icons on the back. Even before you pop the disc in, the art hints at the warm, quirky movie lurking inside. The commentary track is the usual Criterion high-quality production, as much from director/co-writer Wes Anderson as from rookie actor Jason Schwartzman. The commentary makes it very apparent how personal a project Rushmore was, like Bottle Rocket, his freshman effort, with characters, situations, and friends liberally strewn amongst the cast and script.
"The Making of Rushmore" is a nearly hour long documentary filmed on-set by Wes Anderson's older brother Eric Chase Anderson (who shows up in the film as the Rushmore aquarium architect), who also created the DVD box artwork. Its glimpses into the genesis and production of Rushmore may help an understanding of the film and certainly reinforce the impression of a personal, collaborative production. The "Max Fischer Players Presents" adaptations of Armageddon, Out of Sight, and The Truman Show are quick, amusing comedy shorts and the commercial-free "Charlie Rose Show" with Wes Anderson and Bill Murray is a bit of a repeat of the ground covered by the documentary and commentary track.
Other extras are more curiosities than terribly interesting, with some cast audition footage, storyboards and a film to storyboard comparison, and a small collection of "graphic ephemera." The usual theatrical trailer, a multi-page color insert (with production notes), and a fold-out map of the events of Rushmore round out the extra content. Menus (main and sub) use movie-themed art, pictures, and music to amusing effect.
Why, oh, why do fine companies like Criterion insist upon using the Alpha keep case? It is decisions like this that make me buy blank Amaray keep cases en masse for my DVD collection.
Amusing, moving, and a very human story, Rushmore will appeal to fans of thoughtful, human drama (who also like British Invasion songs!) Even if this is not your cup of tea, try a rental, it might grow on you. While this disc would make a fine addition to any collection, its high ($40) list price advises some caution in making a decision to purchase.
Rushmore and Criterion are acquitted beyond all doubt. The Court would like to advise Buena Vista that this is what a typical DVD disc ought to be, and to ask them why would we want the bare-bones, non-anamorphic disc when we can have the excellent Criterion edition?
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track
* Behind the Scenes Documentary
* Max Fischer Players Skits (1999 MTV Movie Awards)
* Charlie Rose Show Interviews
* Cast Audition Footage
* Storyboards and Film to Storyboard Comparison
* Graphic Gallery
* Theatrical Trailer
* Rushmore Webring
* Bill Murray Classic Fan Site