Film reviews and more since 2009

Rushmore (1998) review

Dir. Wes Anderson

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

NOTE: Consider this review a retooling of my original review of Rushmore, published all the way back in 2012.

Rushmore is one of those rare movie experiences for me where I absolutely don’t know what to make of it.

That was how I opened my review of Rushmore back in 2012. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it upon rewatch.

I’ve seen my share of indie comedies, quirky films with cleverly subtle nuances, and an intricate focus, but this one has me truly baffled. For the first time in a long time, the screen I was facing and I, myself, had no connection. It was showing me a movie that left me unengaged, events I found myself struggling to follow, and a tonal inconsistency I tried to comprehend yet mostly failed.

The movie is not by any means confusing In fact, the story is fairly simple. However, I was trying to search for the comedy in its material, the delivery in its dialog, and the wit in its nuances. This is director Wes Anderson’s second feature film, and by this point, he’s established with both an ostensibly incongruent yet functional blend of intellectual yet innocent characters. Bottle Rocket clicked with me on the second watch, as I grew to appreciate its understated, “hang-out” qualities, and eventually grew to love the unconventional dynamic shared by the three leads.

Some conclude that Rushmore remains Anderson’s best film, and the fact that he’s made 10 more since, with more elaborate set designs and larger ensembles, that kind of praise doesn’t count for nothing. I’ll be the odd man out. After two honest attempts to watch it, it’s difficult for me to say anything more than what I originally opined: I didn’t find it very funny nor did I find it particularly interesting.

But I will try and find more words. We follow Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a precocious sophomore who earned himself a scholarship to the prestigious Rushmore Academy. Despite the high expectations of the boy, Max is a slacker when it comes to schoolwork, but is more than willing to start up a new club or write an offbeat play. He grabs the attention of Rushmore alumni Herman Blume (Bill Murray), and winds up becoming close with the man. It isn’t long before their friendship deteriorates into nothing when Herman starts crushing on first grade school teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), also Max’s crush.

Meanwhile, while all this is in the mix, Max learns from his principal (Brian Cox) that he will be given one more chance  to pass another test, but if he fails it, he will be expelled from the Academy.

I have no doubt that all of this could have been incorporated in a funny comedy or a relatively steady drama. I envision a drama focusing on the aspect of failing and trying your hardest only to not succeed because of an albatross or limitations to be a rather poignant subject a film could explore, yet whilst retaining the whimsical space in which Anderson operates.

Sadly, none of that is explored, and the film feels the whole concept is one big joke. It has the presentation of a comedy, but its sternly serious scenes suggest drama, rendering an arrhythmic tone. Its protagonist, to begin with, is an unlikable manipulator of epic proportions. Max can’t give the audience a reason to side with him, and his crush on his first grade teacher is odd and never explored in a way that does the character justice. What I believe Rushmore is truly trying to be is a tough slice of life, yet it is taken in such a peculiar manner that even that becomes questionable.

The warmth of Bottle Rocket has been traded for a rather crisp look in Rushmore, where the film occupies a very deep widescreen (also called letterbox). It’s unusual, yet while the movie is shown in a smaller frame than normal, it appears with more clarity and distinction. It’s also safe to say that Jason Schwartzman clearly tried all he possibly could so that the Max character rubs the audience the right way. He is a quirky character, although an acquired taste. Some will see him as a nuance. Some will see him as a troubled genius. I see him as an annoyance.

Even upon rewatch, Rushmore still feels a tad underdeveloped and rather vacuous. I guess I lack the proper eccentricities to enjoy such a picture.

NOTE: As of this writing, Rushmore is available to rent on multiple streaming platforms.

My review of Bottle Rocket (1996)
My review of Moonrise Kingdom
My review of The Grand Budapest Hotel
My review of Isle of Dogs
My review of Asteroid City

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, and Brian Cox. Directed by: Wes Anderson.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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