Three years ago, Wes Anderson directed and co-wrote (along with Owen Wilson) a little movie called “Bottle Rocket.” It was a good movie, but unfocused and haphazard. It had the beginnings of something great but it never made good on them.
Anderson and Wilson’s latest film is “Rushmore,” a small, sweetly off-beat comedy that makes good on all of the promise shown by “Bottle Rocket” and then some. “Rushmore” is the story of a group of people brought together by one Max Fischer, a Rushmore Academy student whose extracurriculars are better than anybody’s you’ve ever seen (he has either founded or is president of every single club and organization at the school) but whose grades have put him on academic probation. He can talk his way into and out of anything; or at least, he thinks he can. But in “Rushmore” it’s possible because it’s a movie that is a fantasy, really, told from Max’s perspective with his own slant on what’s going on.
And it’s told amazingly well. Wilson and Anderson’s script is watertight and a hilarious joy to behold; they’ve written the best comedy of the year, and they found the actors to back them up. Max is played by first-timer Jason Schwartzman, a short fellow who captures Max’s incredible air of self-confidence and knowing what’s best for himself and for others effortlessly. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got Bill Murray giving the performance of a lifetime as his friend and rival Herman Blume, a construction magnate who has it in for the rich kids at Rushmore (Max is on scholarship) and his eye on a beautiful first grade teacher, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). Unfortunately, Max saw her first, and the bulk of the film is made up of the strange yet funny war that Blume and Max engage in to emerge victorious with the hand of Miss Cross. It never even crosses Max’s mind that Miss Cross would be leery of dating a 15-year-old; for him, that’s just another thing he can talk his way out of and her into. A challenge to be met and surmounted.
The structure of the film involves curtains and months and you get the feeling that it could just go on forever; there are little resolutions and advances here and there, but the tone of the film is such that it’s endless – in a good way. While Schwartzman’s Max is the soul of the film with his impeccably genius intellectualism and affectations (and it’s nearly impossible to fathom that he’s only 15, but at other times it’s glaringly, wonderfully obvious that he’s little more than a boy with a boy’s wishes and emotions), Murray’s desperately trapped Blume, a man who cannonballs to the bottom of a swimming pool and then has to debate whether to resurface, is also great to watch.
In fact, there’s not a misstep to be found in “Rushmore.” It is solid through and through, a movie of relationships, both platonic and otherwise, love and love lost. In the midst of all of the comedy, there are sad and poignant moments as well; it’s a touching film. It’s a great film. It’s the kind of film Max Fischer would make.