Rushmore (1998) — Equal parts sweet and sour

“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?”

Justin’s rating: 4.1 GPA

Justin’s review: There’s just something comfortable about Rushmore’s main character, Max (Jason Schwartzman), that makes this movie an instant old friend. Max, a big-nosed kid with bigger ambitions, is neither a loser (he chairs numerous extra-curricular activities and writes plays) nor the Big Man on Campus (he’s failing out of Rushmore Academy, where many of his schemes have backfired). If nothing else, Max is an earnest, honest, hopeless romantic; this endears him instantly to our wistful childhoods.

Max lives and breathes his alma mater, where he has his fingers in every cookie pot (except academics, see above). His enthusiasm for the school attracts the attention of the academy’s biggest benefactor, Herman Blume (Bill Murray). The two become oddfellow friends, lonely in their own ways yet quirky enough to take each other on their own terms. When they both fall for new first grade teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), their friendship quickly turns to war.

Rushmore is more complex than it first appears. It’s not just a love triangle (although that does serve to drive most of the storyline). Max is not a Ferris Bueller-type kid, whose oddball schemes always work; on the contrary, a plan to build an aquarium to win the heart of Miss Cross backfires horribly). And Bill Murray doesn’t do his typical goofy guy routine; his performance gives you a deep and lovable character.

At its best (where it usually is at), Rushmore is equal parts sweet and sour. Its comedic bits (particularly with the war between Max and Herman) are kooky but don’t cross the line into unbelievability. It’s sad, poignant parts (Max’s hopeless crush on Miss Cross strike a chord in ALL of us at one point in our lives) are hard-hitting and border on depressing. But the brilliance of this film is not taking either aspect too far. There isn’t a perfect ending, but it’s ingenious enough not to make it the downer that most modern indie films take after.

My feelings for Rushmore end up affectionate and wistful. I admire Max for his boldness and his ability to get up when he gets knocked down. It’s not a perfect role or a perfect film, but so very true to life that one can’t help but identify with both Max and Herman. Cheers, Rushmore.

Kyle’s rating: I founded the Advanced Placement Club at AHS, myself

Kyle’s review: I had been looking forward to renting this film since I made the fateful decision NOT to see it at my local theater. I prefer watching quirky, complicated and detailed love stories (which I thought this was) at home, where I can relax in my undies and watch the film while I chew licorice loudly (this behavior is generally frowned upon at my theater).

Armed with a healthy amount of suspicion and distrust for the endless critics who heaped praise upon this film and similar distrust for my idiot unwashed illiterate beer-swilling sub-human friends who had told me this was a good movie, I was pleased that they were wrong. This is a great movie. It’s one of my new favorite movies. It’s cool, it’s offbeat, it’s not really normal but it is: It’s a chunk of real-life with a cinematic swirl and a twist of harsh lemon tossed in. Of course it’s not real, but it could be, and I could see it happening. If these characters were in the world, I do know that I would be a friend with all of them.

The bare bones of the plot is simple: boy falls for older girl and makes new older friend, new friend falls for girl and has affair with her, boy and new friend wage war over girl, girl leaves them both, and boy and new friend team-up to win her back. But it’s not the destination that counts, it how you get there. We’ve all seen this story before, but Rushmore succeeds because it this particular love triangle is composed of some of the strangest and engaging characters I’ve seen in recent years.

Max Fischer is a 15-year-old student at the exclusive Rushmore academy, attending thanks to an academic scholarship won through a “little one-act about Watergate,” a play written in the second grade. While the Rushmore administrators thought that was astounding, Max has continued to be impressive: every extracurricular activity Rushmore offers was either founded or is run by Max; he has his hand in everything from the school magazine to the wrestling team to an aviation club. But Max fails in one all-too-important area: academics. His ruthless insinuation into the school’s clubs leaves little time for study, so he’s failing every class and facing impending expulsion. No problem, though, as Max flippantly tells his best friend, the 10-year-old Dirk (Mason Gamble), he’ll just “pull some strings in administration.”

It’s around this time that Max comes into contact with Herman Blume, a industrialist in his fifties with two hyper-violent twin boys and a (presumably) cheating wife. Herman delivers a speech to the Rushmore students about taking down the rich kids in life and that’s it: once Max runs up to Herman to comment on his speech the two make a happy connection. They both share a love of Rushmore and a pleased lack of desire to grow up. Max plans to stay at Rushmore forever, and Herman can admire that, as time has brought him only a freakish family he never could have imagined and a desire for constant booze and cigarettes.

I’m not sure Murray needed an Oscar for his work but he certainly deserved something like a pizza or an ice cream: he is easily the most fascinating character to watch. Cigarettes constantly dangling from his mouth, a mood immediately conveyed by his choice of clothes in a scene, and another similarity with Max: a lack of maturity. We see Herman falling over fences, hiding behind trees, driving over bikes in anger, sprinting away from a hot chick he likes. Despite serving in Vietnam and a silver comb-over of hair, Herman has never grown up, and like a child still feels most at ease with friends his own emotional age (15 or so, I’d say).

With Herman and Max so alike, it’s no surprise they both fall for Rosemary Cross practically upon first sight. A British first-grade teacher newly hired at Rushmore, Max finds her by tracing a checked-out book to her and Max introduces Herman to her. They both desire her, and although she is admittedly still in love with her one-year-dead husband she starts up an affair with Herman, the more acceptable choice of her two suitors. This doesn’t sit well with the love-struck Max, of course, and soon Herman and Max are both fighting against each other with the most archaic of weapons: killer bees, mashed bikes, cut brake lines, arrest warrants, etc.

If you appreciate character-driven films, this is a great one to watch. I’ll admit it gets a little limp in the end, but as a whole the frantic yet subdued pace and the crazy main trio of people makes for a wonderful movie to watch. This is not a movie to watch while you’re doing something else: the little facial tics and asides Murray makes when he’s on-screen are not to be missed. Rent Rushmore, go buy the soundtrack if you enjoy the quirky British-invasion genre, and if nothing else just be glad that movies like this are still being made.

Nancy’s rating: My friend just said the words “Do we HAVE to be first in line to see X-Men 3?” and I got so mad I decided to write a review about Rushmore.

Nancy’s review: Sometimes my rage doesn’t make sense.

I just watched Rushmore, which makes more sense. But it wasn’t until the spur of “Whyyyy do we haaaaave to be fiiiiirst?” which made me long for a community of people who understand my geeky obsessions and desire to be first in line wearing red Cyclops sunglasses and a big happy grin, and then made me remember I HAVE ONE ON THE INTERNET. At this point, I ran to the computer to type away on the latest movie I watched. That movie is Rushmore.

It’s so good.

Lately it’s been ‘all-melancholia, all-the-time’ for Nancy in my movie selections, but despite rainy-days-in-the-first-week-of-spring blues, I still enjoy laughing. A lot. I love movies that cater to my needs in these areas. Any Wes Anderson or Bill Murray film usually works, as displayed by my two latest reviews. This one is especially nice. It’s done in several acts labeled by months, and it has an especially fantastic soundtrack that other films lack.

Both Justin and Kyle are incredibly right — this film is oddball but it is accurate in life, and it will conquer a small, wistful part in your heart. It takes place mostly in autumn. I love autumn. There are some more points for it there. Next time I watch it, I’ll keep score. When you love a movie, you watch it more than once, clearly. Sometimes if you really love it you’ll watch it as many as eighty times. And each time there is a new aspect, point-of-view, or just random small detail that you didn’t notice before. This time, upon my x-number of viewings, I noticed Miss Rosemary Cross.

It’s hard not to sympathize immediately with Max upon the first few viewings. He’s a stumbling kid, and despite his calligraphy and polite demeanor, he is such a KID. I simultaneously relate and feel sorry for a weird fifteen-year-old with such high ambitions who thinks that maybe they can build an aquarium… on school grounds… without permission. Yea, that sounds like a good idea.

After a few more watches, you get drawn to the funny man, Herman Blume, who is also an awesome complex character. You sympathize with Bill Murray, who is clearly f-ed by the effects of war, but who is still just a drunk child in a drunk old man’s body. Liquor and tobacco play a big part, really. Still, he loves Rosemary and loves Max, in apparent ways. He’s not a family man. But he’s understandable. Anyone who is frustrated with life and in a constant state of mid-life crisis can relate. You think that not many people are in that state, but hey, I’m 17 and I’m questioning my existence and hanging out with over-achievers, so who KNOWS when a mid-life crisis can hit?

You would think next I would be drawn to Rosemary. But then I moved onto the sweet Barbershop Dad, the epitome of all warm-hearted, imperfect fathers. And then I watched for Margaret, the sweet girl courting Max. I love any girl who fakes science competitions and brings boys plants.

Now, finally, on my latest viewing I find myself fascinated by Rosemary Cross. It is easy to see her through Max’s eyes; she’s something he can never have and she is glorified for that from his perspective. But she is just as flawed and kooky as the rest of the characters. She allows Max’s love to grow, starts a relationship with Herman, all the while she is still in love with her dead husband. This is key. Throughout the course of this movie, I noticed this time — at not one point does Rosemary fall out of love with her husband. She cares for both Max and Herman in the same way, but shows it appropriate to their age levels. She is in love with a dead man, and you can’t blame her for that, she simply can’t help it.

This movie is lovely. It leaves you smiling even though neither character got exactly what they wanted. But very rarely do you want what is actually right. If you wanted what was right, if you constantly desired what was meant to happen, then all of your dreams would come true and the world would be perfect. That can’t happen. Scholarly girls with plants have to have their science experiments be revealed as fake. It’s a fact of life. Rosemary’s husband had to die and Max couldn’t be with his first experience in love. But in the end, Max is okay, Rosemary’s okay, Herman’s a little drunk but he’s okay. It’s a warm, sorta sad life lesson from Mr. Wes Anderson.

Didja notice?

  • Slow-mo “Reservoir Dogs”-style walking when Max is finished with his bee insertion
  • Max’s friend who takes his verbal notes
  • Max’s play, “Heaven and Hell”, contains several references to Apocalypse Now, most notably the practice of placing playing cards on the dead enemies’ bodies.
  • In the scene of the signing of the petition to save Latin, actor Thayer McClanahan (playing one of Max’s friends) can be seen to sign his own name on the petition.
  • Max’s roles as a cheerleader and a wrestler (alternate)
  • The play-style theme of the movie

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