"Rushmore" is a comic original. With its dry, throwaway humor and constant stream of chuckles, it creates its own category of stealth comedy. There's a sweet humanity about the picture, though it's anything but sentimental. It's odd, definitely odd. Credit the film's startling originality to director Wes Anderson, and his co-screenwriter, Owen Wilson. These friends from the University of Texas - made their debut with the independent hit "Bottle Rocket". It's structured like a comedy-but there are undertones of darker themes. Whether you see the film as a slowed-down farce, or as a souped-up tragedy, "Rushmore" is packed with richly realized characters.
Max (Jason Schwartzman), a fifteen-year-old misfit in glasses and braces, a terrible student-but enjoys many extracurricular activities at Rushmore Academy. He is then befriended and then betrayed by Herman (Bill Murray), a school benefactor, when both fall for first-grade teacher Rosemary Cross (the magnetic British actress Olivia Williams)--and Max and Herman make foolish attempts to get back at each other. Rosemary is haunted by her own ghosts. Her husband, a former Rushmore student, drowned the year before. She lives in a room filled with artifacts from his school days. Max reminds her of the boy she married, Herman of the man he never grew up to be.
Bill Murray plays Mr. Blume, a local industrialist who somehow, through the veil of his own middle-aged angst, finds himself responding to Max's personality. Like Max, Blume also is alienated. He has a family that makes no sense--a pair of dumb and vicious jock twin sons. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine having sons like this," he deadpans. It's safe to say that Murray has one of the most emotionally layered deadpans of the century. To look at him is to recognize in Blume a fellow who, at his age, becomes lovesick and pathetic. He knows it and is sad about it, and yet sees the humor in his own sorry spectacle. This is a first-class performance.
While everything is falling apart for everyone, Max brings what closure that can actually be, by delivering the most ambitious school play ever attempted. "Rushmore" manages to pay tribute to movies as diverse as "The Graduate" and "Apocalypse Now"--and still brim over with the pleasures of the unexpected. Anderson fills each frame of his rigorously constructed fable with detail. That extends to a terrific soundtrack of British Invasion hits - Cat Stevens, the Kinks, the Faces, the Who, the Stones - that catches the anger roiling under Rushmore's placid exterior. On subsequent viewings, the plaintive subtext of even the funniest scenes becomes readily apparent.