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Review: 'Rushmore'

February 10, 1999|By JASON MYERS

"What's the secret?" Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a deadpan and dead-souled business tycoon, asks Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman).

The bespectacled 15-year-old pauses for a moment and responds, "You've got to find something you enjoy doing, then keep doing it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore."

[cont. from lifestyle]

Rushmore is the private academy Max attends, along with Blume's twin sons. Only Max is about to be expelled. The dean, Dr. Guggenheim (Brian Cox), informs Max that his grades have been impoverished by his too many extracurricular activities: chess club, fencing team, French club, the debating team, beekeepers club and, most important among all others, the Max Fischer Players.

Still, though all this involvement satisfies his teenage egotism - as does his mentor relationship with Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble), a young Rushmore student - Max wonders if he is missing something.

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"I should probably be trying harder to score chicks," Max informs his father (Seymour Cassel). "Unfortunately, that's not my forte." But Max is not timid displaying his romantic ineptitude.

The something he is missing has a name: Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), the enchanting first-grade teacher at Rushmore, who writes things like "superb work" on vocabulary tests. It is the superb work of Max to fall madly in love with her and begin stalking her with the charming diligence that is his signature behavior.

Miss Cross does not know quite how to take Max, but Max knows exactly how he'd like to take Miss Cross. Accordingly, their conversations have a lovely loopiness. As they are feeding fish in her classroom, she mentions her husband. Max is crestfallen.

When she tells him her husband died, a smile traces his face, but he is quick to offer sympathy: His mother also died young.

"I guess we both have dead people in our lives," Max says. The awkward honesty of this line - sorrowful truth passed off as a pick-up line - is characteristic of young love trying to articulate itself. In trying to find the one thing to say that will pierce a love's heart, a teenager often finds a quiver filled with blunt arrows. Max has poison darts.

After the Max Fischer Players perform a smashing "Serpico," Max goes out for a celebratory meal with Mr. Blume, Miss Cross and, to his great chagrin, her boyfriend, Peter Flynn (Luke Wilson).

"I wrote a hit play. What have you done?" Max demands to know of the undeserving suitor of Miss Cross.

But Peter is the least of his worries - Blume is smitten. The next day, acting as Max's ambassador of apology, he inquires, "What's your first name?"

"Rosemary," the fair maiden doth proclaim. "What's yours?"

"Herman."

Rosemary and Herman - if ever there was a story of more woe.

Certainly not for Max, who in the meanwhile has been expelled from Rushmore after attempting to build an aquarium - I'm talking a full-sized aquarium - for Miss Cross - without consulting Dr. Guggenheim.

Max does not know how to respond to public school: He addresses his class on the first day, as they stare dumbly at his scuffed sneakers. He dons full fencing gear in the gymnasium as the basketball team comes rushing in.

To add despair to dislocation, Dirk informs him that Mr. Blume and Miss Cross have been having an affair. Max launches a relentless assault upon Blume - informing his wife of the affair, infesting his hotel room with bees, reworking the brakes on his Bentley. After Herman retaliates - smashing Max's bicycle - he loses Rosemary as well.

It's a tough call, but I think the best scene in "Rushmore" is when Herman and Max, now reconciled, share an elevator ride. Hair sparked from not washing and not caring, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, Herman pours a miniature bottle of alcohol into a soda can, then hides the bottle in a stack of bedsheets piled on a cart behind them. He confesses that he can no longer tell the difference between his two sons, finishes his drink and hides the can alongside the bottle. He lights another cigarette and sticks this one in the center of his mouth.

"Are you all right?" Max inquires as Herman exits the elevator.

He considers this carefully as he swaggers out. "I'm a little lonely these days," Herman answers.

Bill Murray, with his sorrowful, expressive eyes and wry mouth, matches the tone of "Rushmore" perfectly - a casual bemusement at the way life carries joyously onward despite constant failings.

Writer-director Wes Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson construct scenes and characters of perfect despondency - and get you to laugh. "Rushmore" has graceful rhythm - characters burgeon, relate, rise, fall and rise again within 90 minutes.

As Max says, "You've got to find something you enjoy doing, then keep doing it for the rest of your life." For me, it's watching films as exquisitely entertaining as "Rushmore."




Jason Myers, a native of Hagerstown, is a freshman at Bennington College in Vermont.

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