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Movie Review: Rushmore

By Vladimir Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Directed by Wes Anderson.

Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.

With Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Mason Gamble.

I'm going to let you in on a secret, an answer to a question that is heard more and more frequently these days: Why do the tastes of film critics and the filmgoing audience differ so much? After all, something so critically lambasted as Armageddon can end up as the top grosser of the year, while something like A Simple Plan can garner glowing reviews and still face an uphill climb to profitability. Of course, exceptions like Titanic happen as well, but usually the critics' judgement is unrelated to popular appeal.

The answer is the dreaded predictability of most films in this day and age. An average viewer, who goes to the movies once a month or even less frequently might face a standard specimen of any of Hollywood's standard genres (romantic comedy, action, special effects extravaganza) rarely enough that the redundancy of these films goes unnoticed. For an average film critic, even one as lackadaisical as your faithful servant, watching more than a movie per week can get really boring really fast especially if these movies feel like they were all xeroxed off When Harry Met Sally, Die Hard, or Jurassic Park, all movies that weren't marvels of originality to begin with.

That's why the arrival of something like Rushmore feels like a proverbial breath or make it blast of fresh air. Rushmore is an offbeat comedy, an offbeat buddy film, an offbeat romance, and an offbeat revenge story. Or none of these things. Mix up some wildly varying comic elements, combine them with some of most deliciously deadpan acting in recent memory (rivaling that of Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black), add highly imaginative and inventive usage of the widescreen format, and get Rushmore, which is just about the least conventional and yet solidly enjoyable movie to come out recently.

The plot... Well, you see, there's this Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman), fifteen years old, on a scholarship to a prestigious preppie school, Rushmore Academy. Max, while quite a brilliant student, is failing just about every class, because he's interested in way too many things: aquanautics, aviation, beekeeping, calligraphy, and so on down the alphabet. Then he meets Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a millionaire alum, gets interested in a first grade teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams), and from there things start getting complicated.

And funny, too. While I must admit that some of the film's comic sensibilities left me somewhat cold at first ("Wow, weird" rather than "Wow, neat"), after a short while I realized that Rushmore is absolutely hilarious. The wealth of character details, background gags, and visual style is nearly overwhelming. The filmmakers' sheer imagination (verbal, visual, cinematic, and narrative) is powerful enough to make the film totally unpredictable, and, even more, there's the feeling of being at the mercy of expert storytellers, who will take you on an enjoyable journey no matter what the destination might be.

And the destination is very much worth it. Ultimately, the story of Max Fisher is that of a man who is good at just about everything he is interested in and that's both his blessing and his curse, since he is having the hardest time adjusting to the sheer number of interesting things in the world around him.

It's no coincidence that the film ends at the theatre, with Max directing and playing the lead in his own play (the fact that the play is highly ambitious, if not highly original, is a nice subversive touch). After all, with all the film's theatrical mise-en-scene, replete with opening and closing curtains at the beginning and the end, Rushmore is a celebration of life at its most theatrical, and as such would make a nice companion piece to Shakespeare in Love, which developed a similar theme in a vastly different manner. After all, life is unpredictable would it be asking too much for the movies to be the same way as well?