Wednesday, February 10, 1999

Laugh, you wierdos!

Wes Anderson concocts the most original comedy.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Rushmore is really the Max Fischer Experience. That is, director Wes Anderson — who co-wrote the script with Bottle Rocket-collaborator Owen Wilson — has created one of the most distinctive characters in recent cinema with Max (Jason Schwartzman), a precocious, ambitious and maddeningly confident sophomore at Rushmore Academy, a boy’s prep school.

But Max isn’t simply the linchpin character: The whole tone of the film reflects his peculiar sensibility, where anything seems possible. After all, the 15-year-old scholarship student is Rushmore’s most distinguished pupil, leader or founder of most extracurricular activities, a prolific playwright and someone who inspires confidence. Unfortunately, Max is also flunking out. This threatens to separate him from his beloved institution, which represents order and hierarchy, two Old World ideals that Max wholeheartedly embraces — without realizing that his very presence at Rushmore puts them in jeopardy.

Max’s scrappy tenacity and naked ambition — he’s the outsider who desperately wants to be let in — are apparent to Rushmore benefactor, Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a wealthy steel tycoon trapped in the body of a tacky Willy Loman. Their unusual but mutually beneficial friendship is threatened when both Max and Blume fall in love with first-grade teacher, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), a young widow whose briskly efficient exterior masks a conflicted agenda.

In several ways — including the strikingly effective use of music — Rushmore is heir to The Graduate (1967). Indeed, Max and Blume seem the before and after of Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock: warped versions of the honor student-track star, and the man who gets Elaine and a career in plastics.

Rushmore is guided by Max Fischer’s particular brand of dream logic, where reality is recognizable but just slightly askew. Even within this context, he’s a baffling paradox: a blowhard who gets things done; a geek who fancies himself desirable; a smug jerk who inspires devotion; an egalitarian elitist.

So it’s somehow fitting that in this Maxcentric universe, Rushmore exists as a satirical comedy, full of dry wit and adolescent absurdities, and a bittersweet valentine to manipulative — sometimes malicious — misfits who actually find the love they deserve.

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