When I asked Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson what would be next after 1996′s Bottle Rocket, they told me they were working on a number of projects about ‘serious things.’ I expressed skepticism then, and it turns out it was justly founded. Rushmore is anything but serious, despite the Presidential-sounding name.
So, what is Rushmore? Rushmore is a prestigious private school in Nowhere, U.S.A. (actually Houston and Dallas, Texas), where its most vocal student, Max (Schwartzman), is also its worst academically. Rushmore the movie follows Max in his travails at school, where he falls hopelessly in love with teacher Miss Cross (Williams, straight from The Postman and a haircut). Unwilling to accept that the age differential is a concern, the 15-year old Max embarks on a grand scheme to build an enormous aquarium as a symbol of affection. That he builds it on the school’s baseball diamond is what gets him thrown out of Rushmore.
Lest I forget myself in failing to mention Oscar-worthy Bill Murray (with Billy Bob Thornton, one of the only two Best Supporting Actors 1998 had) as the wrench in Max’s master plan. Murray appears as one Mr. Blume, a rich curmudgeon of an industrialist who at first funds Max’s plans, then tries to steal Miss Cross away for himself.
Typing it out, it all sounds very conventional, but it’s not. Next to There’s Something About Mary, Rushmore is one of only a handful of solid, funny comedies of 1998. And how funny it is! Anderson and Wilson’s writing is spot-on yet surrealistic. The dialogue is bizarre and full of non-sequiturs, yet wildly entertaining. The whole film plays as a near fantasy, where the adults act like children, and the children act like adults. And no one’s the wiser to the switch.
Rushmore is a truly American film that deserves to be seen by many, many people. How many of those are going to ‘get it’ remains a mystery.
Fans absolutely have to get the Rushmore Criterion DVD, which features commentaries and some hilarious outtakes that defy description. Get it. Watch it. Love it.