Reviews

Be True to Your School and to Yourself: 'Rushmore'

Wes Anderson's 1998 masterpiece is a sharply observed coming-of-age film, a hilarious fish-out-of-water farce, and a bittersweet tale of unrequited love.


Rushmore

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jason Shwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: R
Year: 2011
Release date: 2011-11-22
Blume: What’s the secret, Max?

Max: I think you have to find something that you love to do and then do that for the rest of your life. For me, that’s going to Rushmore.

Reissued by Criterion in Blu-ray format, Wes Anderson’s 1998 masterpiece, Rushmore excels on many levels. It’s a sharply observed coming-of-age film, a hilarious fish-out-of-water farce, and a bittersweet tale of unrequited love. Yet the film is more than the sum of its parts, loosely based on Anderson’s own adolescence as a budding playwright at an exclusive prep school.

Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is an unflappable nerd with a knack for forging unlikely friendships, pulling people of all ages and classes into his zany orbit. He’s the president of Rushmore’s beekeeper club, editor of the school newspaper, wrestling team trainer and megaphone-wielding cheerleader.

Despite being a playwright who stages his own productions (via the Max Fischer Players), Max is flunking out of school:

Dr. Guggenheim: Max, we’re putting you on academic probation. If you flunk another class, you’ll have to leave Rushmore.

Max: If this means I have to stay on for a post-graduate year, then so be it.

Dr. Guggenheim: Rushmore doesn’t offer a post-graduate year.

Max: Well…we don’t offer a post-graduate year yet.

Adding to Max’s trouble is the lovely new teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), with whom he falls hopelessly in love. Max’s friendship with a wealthy Rushmore parent, Herman Blume (Bill Murray), sets the stage for a particularly vicious yet comical love triangle.

Anderson’s virtuosity is easier to experience than describe. His collaboration with music director Mark Mothersbaugh produces several moments of cinematic grace. Within a plot framework of two men in love with an unattainable young woman, crucial emotional moments are scored with pop songs of the '60s and '70s. Anderson's pitch-perfect alchemy of cinematography and music creates a kaleidoscope of indelible images, and gives birth to Anderson's own auteur signature--an evocative, emotionally transformative cinematic vision.

After Max is expelled from Rushmore and enters public school, his world shifts into monochrome. The autumn colors of the Rushmore campus are replaced by the sepia tones of a public institution. This adolescent fall from grace, scored by the Rolling Stones “I Am Waiting” packs an emotional wallop.

With homespun sorcery, Anderson unreels these moments time and again at critical junctures in the film. Max’s rapprochement with Blume, who’s just been dumped by Rosemary, is scored with Cat Stevens’ “The Wind”. It’s another brilliant set piece and Murray has never been better in any role. His depiction of the emotionally devastated Blume rings true—you sense a man at the end of his tether.

Max: I thought I’d give you one of my Rushmore pins…would you like attendance or punctuality?

Blume: I’ll go with punctuality.

What’s really being offered here is renewed friendship, renewed trust. It’s a genuinely moving exchange between two quirky, kindred spirits.

Dave Kehr’s essay on the film describes Max as an American dreamer in the tradition of Twain’s Huck Finn. “Max is representative of all artists who use their work to arrange their world. His school play is his way of reintegrating a whole range of broken friendships and incidental enmities into a balanced community.”

Rushmore reminds us of the ache of the adolescent broken heart. With its backstory of Max’s early loss of his mother, everything that follows flows from that childhood trauma—from Max’s hopeless attraction to the older Rosemary to his desire to be a playwright, banging out play after play from an old typewriter that his mother gave him.

When Max finally comes to terms with both Rosemary and Blume, only then does he realize the potential for future happiness. Anderson reveals how love and loss defines us, how estrangement dehumanizes us, and how reconciliation and acceptance finally redeems us.

Henry James once defined art as ‘felt life’, and that’s exactly what Anderson achieves in Rushmore. His characters come vividly alive and that’s no small thing. We’re keenly aware of their emotional pain and the stakes involved. What begins as a coming-of-age comedy turns into something more important: a deep understanding of the human condition.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Rushmore includes a crystalline video transfer in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and a clean 5.1 DTS audio track. Extras include cast auditions, director’s commentary, and the Max Fischer Players ‘adaptations’ of Armageddon,Out of Sight, and The Truman Show. Also included is Dave Kehr’s insightful essay, “The Play’s the Thing”.

10
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Texas Gentlemen Share the Powerful and Soulful "Last Call" (premiere)

Eclectic Texas band, the Texas Gentlemen return with a vibrant, imaginative LP that resists musical boundaries. Hear their latest epic single, "Last Call".

Music

Vincent Cross Pays Tribute to Folk Hero via "King Corcoran" (premiere)

Gangs of New York-era James "The Rooster" Corcoran was described as the terror of New York's east side. His descendent, Vincent Cross, retells his story with a "modern dark fairy tale".

Music

Eddy Lee Ryder Gets Lonely and Defiant with "Expected to Fly" (premiere)

Eddy Lee Ryder explores the loss of friendship and refusal to come of age, cloaked in the deeply dramatic and powerful song, "Expected to Fly".

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Film

Creative Disruption in 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

Portrait of a Lady on Fire yearns to burn tyrannical gendered tradition to ash and remake it into something collaborative and egalitarian.

Music

Fave Five: The Naked and Famous

Following two members leaving the group in 2018, synthpop mavens the Naked and Famous are down to a duo for the first time ever and discuss the records they turned to help make their aptly-named fourth record, Recover.

Evan Sawdey
Books

Fleetwood Dissects the European Mindset in His Moody, Disturbing Thriller, 'A Young Fair God'

Hugh Fleetwood's difficult though absorbing A Young Fair God offers readers a look into the age-old world views that have established and perpetuated cultural rank and the social attitudes that continue to divide us wherever we may reside in the world.

Music

Art Feynman Creates Refreshing Worldbeat Pop on 'Half Price at 3:30'

On Half Price at 3:30, Art Feynman again proves himself adept at building colorful worlds from unexpected and well-placed aural flourishes.

Music

The Beths Are Sharp As Ever on 'Jump Rope Gazers'

New Zealand power-poppers the Beths return with a sophomore album that makes even the most senior indie-rock acts feel rudimentary by comparison.

Music

Jessie Ware Returns to Form on 'What's Your Pleasure'

On What's Your Pleasure, Jessie Ware returns to where it all began, the dance floor.

Music

The Jayhawks Offer Us Some 'XOXO'

The Jayhawks offer 12-plus songs on XOXO to help listeners who may be alone and scared by reminding us that we are all alone together.

Music

Steve McDonald Remembers the Earliest Days of Redd Kross

Steve McDonald talks about the year that produced the first Redd Kross EP, an early eighth-grade graduation show with a then-unknown Black Flag, and a punk scene that welcomed and defined him.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.