Rushmore (1999)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Bull Murray, Olvia Williams
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Let me go ahead and blow this entire review by saying that everything that you’ve heard about "Rushmore" is true. It’s a great movie that is very funny and got totally robbed at the Oscars. It’s a true original that deserves to find a wider audience and the young filmmakers behind it should be catapulted into the big leagues. "Rushmore" tells the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), one of the best fictional characters ever. Max is a 10th grader at Rushmore Academy, an elite prep school. Max is very ecletic, and has many pursuits. He is editor of the yearbook and school newspaper.

He is the founder and president of many clubs. He has his own acting troupe (the Max Fischer Players) and writes his own plays. Unfortunately, he is also a terrible student and is on the verge of being expelled. Max meets industrialist Herman Blume (Bill Murray, who my wife thinks is a god) and they strike up a friendship. Blume is unhappy with his life and he likes the way Max attacks life. Max also meets Miss Cross (Olvia Williams), a young teacher at Rushmore and falls in love with her. Unfortunately, Blume falls for her as well. The film essays Max’s fall from grace as he is threatened with expulsion, yearns for a woman he can’t have and is tormented by his peers. Throughout this struggle, Max perseveres and always finds a way to maintain his dignity and individuality. Not to say that things always go well for Max, they don’t, but Max shows us that the human spirit can overcome many things.

The brilliance of "Rushmore" lies in its interesting characters and the beauty with which the story is told. "Rushmore" was written by Wes Anderson, who also directed the film, and Owen Wilson, the same team that brought us the over-rated "Bottle Rocket". Unlike "Bottle Rocket", with its meandering storyline and poorly drawn characters, "Rushmore" is able to move along in a very concise manner and give us all of the information that we need. Through the dialogue, we learn how Max ended up at Rushmore and what his past was like. Through poetic visuals, we learn why Blume is unhappy with his home life. Whereas in "Bottle Rocket" I never really understood why the characters were doing the stupid things that they did, the motivations for the characters in "Rushmore" are easily summized. Anderson has also toned down his gimmicky editing style that he displayed in "Bottle Rocket" and it helps substantially to give "Rushmore" a more cohesive feel.

The brilliant writing also brings us some of the most fully developed characters that I’ve seen in years. As I mentioned above, Max Fischer is a truly original character. Max is somehow the epitome of nerd and cool at the same time. While we don’t always like what Max does or how he reacts to situations, his tenacity must be applauded. Max always has a witty retort ready and doesn’t like to lose. While I always roll my eyes at the brilliant under-achievers presented in some films, such as "The Faculty" or "10 Things I Hate About You", I totally bought the character of Max, who has spread himself so thin with his extra-curricular activities that he is failing all of his courses. This complex writing also applies to Blume. While he could have been portrayed as a stereotypical good-hearted philanthropist, Blume’s character is very three-dimensional.

He’s rich, but that doesn’t make him happy and on top, his family is not what he thought it would be. He’s powerful, but finds himself feeling impotent. The most amazing thing about Blume’s character is how it is summed up in the family portrait that is shown twice in the film. When Fischer and Blume clash, we don’t get into an over-the-top battle of egos, but rather a very real interaction of two strong-willed individuals who have a history of going for what they want, but are also vulnerable human beings.

While "Rushmore" does an excellent job of telling the linear story of Max and his struggles, it is also full of hilarious vignettes that give the movie its heart. The funniest of these are Max’s plays, which are overly ambitious, but utterly sincere. I just loved the tiny jet dropping tiny napalm in his final play and I still giggle every time I think about it. There are also Max’s interactions with his fellow students and the headmaster at Rushmore, which are filled with brilliant dialogue.

To bring a character like Max Fischer to life must take a good actor and Jason Schwartzman (who is Taila Shire’s real-life son) rises to the task. He plays Max with an arrogance and sophistication that many older actors couldn’t pull off. As stated before, "Rushmore" was robbed at the Oscars, and that is most evident in Bill Murray’s performance. He plays Blume as very human and very subtle. This isn’t the overblown Murray that we’re used to. He deserved a nomination because; A) it’s such a good performance, and B) more importantly, it’s such a growth for him as an actor. Whereas most Murray characters are very tongue in cheek, this man is very genuine and we believe him. Williams is good as Miss Cross, portraying the confusion and distress of having two totally different men pursuing her. In a performance that is almost as surprising as Bill Murray’s, Mason Gamble, who played the title role in "Dennis The Menace", plays Dirk, Max’s young friend, who remains a stoic observer of Max’s shenanigans throughout the film.

The Touchstone Home Video DVD is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio <$PS,letterboxed> frame, which shows no signs of distortion. The picture is very clear and the color balancing appears accurate. The framing of the picture is nice, with no apparent problems in the cropping. Most of "Rushmore" contains muted tones and the exteriors are usually overcast, giving the film a cold look that juxtaposes its hyperactive main character. The transfer is extremely clean with absolutely solid colors and a perfect black-level. With this release Buena Vista once again proves how good eve non-<$16x9,anamorphic> discs can look – although a full <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer would certainly be able to improve the look of even this disc.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack featured on the disc is active throughout the film, most notably during Max’s plays. The balance of the mix is good, with the music never drowing out the dialogue. Actually the music, a constant of barrage of lifeless 60s tunes, was the only thing in the film that I didn’t like. The only extra on the DVD is a theatrical trailer. It would have been nice to see production notes or, better still, an <$commentary,audio commentary> to get an idea of where the character of Max came from. For once, believe the hype. "Rushmore" is one of the best comedies in years. But, be warned, the humor is very subtle and may not be for everyone’s tastes. Still, the movie has so much heart and spunk, that even if you don’t get all of the jokes, you’ll probably still like the movie. And you’ll love Max.