Boston Phoenix, February 1999
RUSHMORE; Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. With Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, and Luke Wilson. A Touchstone Pictures release. At the Nickelodeon, the Kendall Square, and the Circle and in the suburbs.
By Peter Keough
Adolescence, for better and worse, defines popular culture these days, from the hit movie Varsity Blues
to the junior-high petulance and concupiscence of the United States Congress. In the process, with the emphasis on hormones, pseudo-hipness, bogus nihilism, and bodily functions, all of the charm of that evanescent, inescapable state of mind has been lost, as well as the magic, the optimism, and the spontaneity. In his brilliant new Rushmore
, Wes Anderson goes a long way to restoring all that. It’s innocent (mostly — the deviations are crucial, never gratuitous) and
funny — in its way as funny as There’s Something About Mary
. Smugness and smarminess never taint its irony; compassion and exuberance stir its absurdity.The spirit of Rushmore, the genial private academy of the title, is embodied in its hero, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, whose film debut is comparable in many ways to that of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate
). His gravely monumental face peaking in a prominent, pasteboard-looking nose surmounted by Harold Lloyd-like glasses, he’s driven by simple, irreconcilable desires: he wants to be loved; he wants to succeed; and he wants to remain forever at his beloved school. On the basis of a play he wrote about Watergate at age seven, his mother got him a scholarship to go to Rushmore. Now 15, with his mother dead, and his loving dad (Seymour Cassel, another great face and performance) an embarrassment given the tony crowd Max is hanging around with, he sees Rushmore as his alma mater in the literal sense. It’s the womb he doesn’t want to leave.That may explain why he’s such a lousy student. An opening fantasy parodying Good Will Hunting
notwithstanding, he’s failing every course. In extracurriculars, though, he’s outstanding — in a hilarious montage of yearbook-like snapshots, he’s shown as active in every group from the Bombardment Society to the Max Fischer Players, his personal drama corps. But Dean Guggenheim (Brian Cox, one of the few excellent supporting actors underused) has had enough. Max faces “sudden-death probation” — one more failure and he’s across the street, where the grim Grover Cleveland public high school looms.