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With: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Connie Nielsen, Deepak Pallana, Andrew Wilson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief nudity
Running Time: 93
Date: 09/17/1998

Rushmore (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

School Spirit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If I were to rank all of today's comedians-turned-actors -- never mind who would be at the bottom -- I would put Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, and Eddie Murphy near the top. But occupying the very top spot would have to be Bill Murray. In the last ten years, he has given us spectacular turns in Quick Change (1990), which he also co-directed, Groundhog Day (1993), Mad Dog and Glory (1993), Ed Wood (1994), Kingpin (1996), and Wild Things (1998). Before that, he popped up in potent bit parts in Caddyshack (1980), Tootsie (1982), and Little Shop of Horrors (1986), and laid it all on the line for his own pet project, The Razor's Edge (1984), which was unsuccessful, but interesting.

Now, thanks to great timing, and writer/director Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket), it looks like Murray will finally be up for a well-deserved Academy Award. This is not because Rushmore contains Murray's greatest performance -- it doesn't quite reach the heights he achieved in Groundhog Day. It's because Murray has been long overdue for recognition, and this movie is as good as any, and better than most. It will be the equivalent of a "lifetime achievement" award for him. (The Academy is famous for delaying its praise, which is why people like Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant won only lifetime achievement awards late in their career.)

The main character in Rushmore is Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), who is president or founder of nearly every kind of extra-curricular activity imaginable in his prestigious school, Rushmore Academy. Unfortunately, his grades are failing and he is on the verge of being kicked out. Max wants nothing more than to stay in Rushmore. Looking for help, he befriends a tycoon, Mr. Blume (Murray), and develops a crush on a British 2nd Grade teacher, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). When Mr. Blume and Miss Cross fall in love, Max goes on the warpath to revenge.

That's about all the plot there is. We see Max playing at many of his pastimes; flying motorized planes, wrestling, putting on bizarre plays (he stages Serpico and a Vietnam war story), and more. We see his wild attempts at wooing the much older teacher, and his wicked revenge on his friend Blume. Every scene is set in a different location, with some kind of new activity going on. The effect is that the story becomes an unreality, like a weird cartoon.

It's all a bit overwhelming, and the obsessed Max is hard to connect with. (This is not the fault of Schwartzman, the talented son of Talia Shire, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, and cousin of Nicolas Cage.) Murray, on the other hand, delivers a strong sad-sack performance, and his long face tells volumes. He shines in every scene he's in; locked out of his own car by his dimwit, wrestling-team sons, hopelessly jumping in the pool during a big party at his house, coolly but hopefully accepting a carrot from Miss Cross, and at the end of his rope while getting a haircut from Max's dad (Seymour Cassell).

Whatever its minor shortcomings, Murray is a shining star, and you should see the movie just for him. However, Rushmore is no ordinary movie, and I think it will develop a strong cult following with the folks that catch on to its funky vibe.

I fortunately had the chance to see Rushmore a second time before making my year end list and I now retract anything negative I said about it above. The DVD from the Criterion Collection is one of greatest yet produced, period. Its package design, picture and sound quality, extras and commentary track are all above par.

In 2011, Criterion released a new Blu-Ray edition, with a new high-def picture and DTS-HD audio track, and most of the same extras. These include a commentary track with Anderson, Wilson, and Schwartzman, a making-of featurette from the director's brother Eric Chase Anderson, three "Max Fischer Players" productions from the 1999 MTV Music Awards, an interview with Charlie Rose, storyboards, a trailer and more. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic Dave Kehr (an early supporter of the film), and a poster.

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