Wes Anderson's sophomore outing is a sophisticated coming-of-ager high-school comedy where its lead character may not be so dissimilar from a great chess player.
Rushmore stars Jason Schwartzman (son of Talia Shire and nephew of Francis Ford Coppola), Bill Murray, Olivia Williams and Luke Wilson, set at the titular academy, and has an emotional pull from a rugged sense of individualism, wanting to succeed and deep infatuation, as well as acceptance.
Schwartzman's precocious blue-blazer Max Fischer doesn't seem like a 10th-grader at the institution where his grades have suffered because of his extensive extracurricular activities - starting new clubs and on the stage with his 'Max Fischer Players' means he's too busy to study.
Anderson's way with detail in a certain antiseptic, if authentic style works remarkably well, poignantly and wryly, through his thoughtful script (including many articulate, pungent line readings) collaborated by Owen Wilson. His sibling Luke Wilson gets jabbed at by Max for his wardrobe when out with the sweet Miss Cross (Williams of The Postman), a new first-grade teacher who has a studied aura about her that captivates and enamors Max.
The important connection in a darkly comic and oddly perceptive film is the love/hate relationship with Max and shy, melancholic steel tycoon Herman Blume, done with some understated, sardonic and sincere charm by Murray (who is a decent fit for Anderson's keen, idiosyncratic vision). Blume (who can't handle and hates his own kids) lures Max into his business as the latter gets the chief benefactor of the school to build an aquarium at the school for Miss Cross who becomes caught in the middle of an unusual friendship. As well as having the affections of Blume turn her way to Max's growing dismay.
Schwartzman brings precision and nuance to Max that makes his somewhat overbearing con artist more sympathetic and nicely complementing Murray's delightful deadpan demeanor. Among those more seasoned in a number of notable backup performances are Brian Cox as Dr. Guggenheim who has Max on probation then dismissal for his abating academic standing and Seymour Cassel as Max's father Bert who goes under the auspice of a neurosurgeon but actually a barber.
The sensible sociological-attuned script braces through creativity (not just in Max's Vietnam and Serpico productions) and the filmmaking hones it in a brazen, subliminal collage that might turn off some viewers not into its offbeat unpretentiousness and broader absurdities. The humor and derisive touches underscore the emotional proclivities particularly of Max, Blume and Miss Cross in ways that challenge Max's ambitions and desires.
Rushmore is consistently en-lived by its honesty and willing to move as Anderson has diligently followed through on ideas and themes introduced in his debut feature, Bottle Rocket. It may hardly be the crowning glory of its genre for the typical mainstream cineaste, but from a superior, polished production abetted by Robert Yeoman's widescreen lensing and Mark Mothersbaugh's eclectic score, its spirited idealism is the kind of smooth operator Max is.