A bizarre romantic triangle among a precocious teen wunderkind, a millionaire industrialist and a young schoolteacher, "Rushmore" has far more imagination and wit than most major studio efforts, but it is occasionally undone by its preciousness. The presence of Bill Murray, delivering one of his sharpest comic performances in eons, should help significantly. The film screened at the recent New York Film Festival.
Jason Schwartzman, making an auspicious screen debut, plays Max Fischer, a bespectacled 10th-grader at the upscale, snotty Rushmore Academy. Max is not exactly an academic star, but he has other talents -- many of them. In fact, his extracurricular activities, from editing the school newspaper to founding clubs devoted to activities ranging from debating to dodge ball, are so legion that he's neglected his studies to the degree that he's on the verge of getting expelled. His most passionate energies are devoted to the Max Fischer Players, a school theatrical group for whom he has the temerity to stage elaborate (and hilariously rendered) adaptations of "Serpico" and "Apocalypse Now". Herman Blume (Murray), a restless business tycoon and the father of two underachieving sons also at Rushmore, attends one of Max's productions and, spotting a kindred spirit, becomes a mentor and friend to the young man.
That friendship is sorely tested by the beautiful Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), on whom Max develops a powerful crush. At first, Blume watches Max's romantic efforts with some degree of bemusement, but eventually he himself succumbs to Miss Cross' charms -- and Max grows increasingly resentful of his new friend's betrayal.
Plot matters less in "Rushmore" than the comic details of Max's checkered school career and the beautifully textured characterizations of the three main characters. As played in supremely arrogant fashion by Schwartzman, Max is an inspired comic creation, and the ennui-laden Blume is a marvelous showcase for Murray's deadpan style. His subtle performance is an excellent example of star power harnessed to a character role.
Williams is highly appealing as the teacher with a tragedy in her past; the actress seems to have survived her debut in "The Postman" handily. British actor Brian Cox scores major laughs with his portrayal of an endlessly flustered headmaster, and Seymour Cassel brings his weathered charm to the small role of Max's father, a barber.
Anderson and Owen Wilson's concise screenplay deftly avoids sentimentality but somehow manages to be touching anyway. The former's astute direction displays an excellent knack for visual as well as verbal gags, and Robert Yeoman's widescreen lensing is unusually beautiful and textured for a comedy. The musical score, which includes many British pop classics, is another plus.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Credits: Director: Wes Anderson; Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson; Producers: Barry Mendel, Paul Schiff; Executive producers: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson; Director of photography: Robert Yeoman; Editor: David Moritz; Music: Mark Mothersbaugh. Cast: Max Fischer: Jason Schwartzman; Mr. Blume: Bill Murray; Miss Cross: Olivia Williams; Dr. Guggenheim: Brian Cox; Bert Fischer: Seymour Cassel; Dirk Calloway: Mason Gamble. MPAA rating: R. Color/stereo. Running time -- 95 minutes.