Director: Wes Anderson
Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson
Following on from the relative success of his debut Bottle Rocket, famed film auteur Wes Anderson developed a more distinctive style with his follow-up, 1998’s Rushmore. Rushmore stars Jason Schwartzman as fifteen year old Max Fischer in his film debut; a teenager who is focused more on his extra-curricular activities than his studies at the prestigious Rushmore school, much to the chagrin of the school’s staff.
Rushmore was the first of Anderson’s films to receive an overwhelming positive response from both critics and audiences. Although receiving relatively middling returns from the box office ($17.2million from a $9million budget) it has become something of a cult hit in the two decades since its release. Caroline Westbrook, in Empire, was full of praise for Rushmore, describing it as an “Offbeat and off centre high-school movie with acerbic one liners delivered by a superb cast. A real treat”. Westbrook also noted the strength of Bill Murray’s supporting performance and Schwartzman’s lead role as Max. Rushmore has gone on to feature in several “Best of” lists for films from the 1990s, including one put together by Rolling Stone.
The casting, as referenced by Westbrook in her Empire review, is one of Rushmore’s greatest strengths, with the central trio of Schwartzman, Murray and Olivia Williams each offering exceptional turns. Schwartzman and Murray have both worked extensively with Anderson in the years following Rushmore’s release, with Murray appearing in every Wes Anderson directed film from Rushmore onwards.
Murray plays the entrepreneur Herman Bloom, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Max Fischer (Schwartzman) due in part to the disappointment he has in his children. As the film progresses and Max becomes fond of Rosemary Cross (Williams), the pair become love rivals and the fluctuating nature of the pair’s relationship forms much of the film’s core, with Schwartzman and Murray bouncing off each other terrifically. Olivia Williams is also a fine foil for Schwartzman and initially sympathises with Fischer before becoming increasingly put out by his antics and efforts for her attention. Brian Cox (The Bourne Franchise) also appears in a smaller supporting role as Dr Guggenheim, the principal of Rushmore who frequently butts heads with Max. While this role is slight, Cox offers a typically watchable performance, presenting his character’s substantial frustration at Max’s wasted academic potential.
Anderson’s musical cues, which have become synonymous with his work, are employed to great effect in Rushmore, with period music from The Kinks, Cat Stevens, The Faces and John Lennon used throughout. The filmmaker had initially planned to soundtrack the film exclusively with the music of The Kinks, but later decided against this idea, instead employing this technique for a large part of the soundtrack on The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
Another clear strength of Rushmore is in its screenplay, which Wes Anderson co-wrote with frequent collaborator and Bottle Rocket co-writer Owen Wilson. While their feature debut Bottle Rocket in many ways feels more conventional than subsequent films, Rushmore indicates the pair’s transition into the whimsical, with this sophomore feature’s quirky style of humour and dialogue being exactly what Anderson’s films would become synonymous with in later years. Anderson’s distinctive visual palette is also more obvious here, with long-time collaborator Robert Yeoman bringing a typically Andersonian autumnal feel to the film through his unique cinematography.
While leaving a relatively small dent at the box office upon release, Rushmore has since become one of Wes Anderson’s most recognisable works, and in the context of his filmography functions as a clear transition between Bottle Rocket and his wider portfolio, with his trademark visual palette and brand of humour shining throughout. The cast are constant delight with a star making turn from Jason Schwartzman, and while Rushmore may not be as instantly quotable as the Anderson’s later releases The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tenenbaums, it is a fine coming of age tale nonetheless; a film that has held up well in the two decades since its release and will likely garner fans for years to come. A fine starting point for those wanting to dive into the world of modern film authorship.