For all the comic mishaps, misadventures, and outright bizarre settings and nonsensical stories found in the budding filmography of Wes Anderson, none have the power, strange familiarity, or relatable characters as his beloved second full length film, 'Rushmore.' While 'Bottle Rocket' has its fans, 'Rushmore' put the director on the map, with a great mixture of sincerity and dark, sometimes ironic humor.
The film is the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), the fifteen year old king of Rushmore prep school. His family isn't rich (his father (Seymour Cassel) is a barber, though Max claim's he's a neurosurgeon; his mother is deceased), but the spunky kid landed a scholarship due to his talents as a playwright. While he's the founder, champion, or member of almost every club imaginable at the school, he just so happens to also be, quite possibly, the worst student. Facing sudden death academic probation, Max's world goes into a tailspin, just as he meets a Rushmore teacher (Olivia Williams as Rosemary Cross) who has him head over heels. The problem is, along with being fifteen, Max faces competition for the beautiful, educated woman, as industrialist (and father of twin students at Rushmore) Herman Blume (Bill Murray) has also taken a liking to her.
While it isn't a laugh out loud, knee slapper film, 'Rushmore' is among the greatest comedies of its decade (if not the greatest!), with a perfect mixture of fun, borderline bizarre characters who you grow to care for, dry wit, and plenty of oddly hilarious interactions. The love triangle between the three leads is obviously what pushes most of the narrative, and it is handled appropriately, but the way Williams, Murray, and Schwartzman perform this odd triumvirate is fascinating. Max and Herman are two peas from the same pod, even if they're a generation or two apart; Blume's odd sensibilities and obsessions come to light the moment he meets Rosemary, and you can't help but notice they're about on par with the ritual dance Max is performing. The very first conversation between Max and the teacher is the perfect example of Anderson writing, as the twitterpated boy awkwardly moves on the bleachers, nearer and further to the object of his affections, with nearly every random odd tidbit of conversation. The stilted conversation by the boy trying to be a man, trying to show he's more than just some teenage goon, in an attempt to appeal to her, it's hard to not find the whole situation hilarious, and as the story escalates, the extremities Max is willing to go to in order to prove his love for his unwilling recipient are hard to not laugh at, even at their pathetic peak.
There are numerous layers to this film to enjoy, which has given this film a massive load of replays in this household. The side characters all stick, and help create this odd little self contained universe, and even the ones with only a small handful of scenes or lines become memorable due to their place in the mix. Take, for example, Anderson's pal Luke Wilson, who is given a very small role as a friend to Rosemary, and the scene becomes quite possibly the most memorable in the entire film, as Max just lays into the poor schlub (who's actually very well to do) for getting in the way of his attempted conquest, with horrifically rude, biting remarks that can't help but draw a laugh or two. The way these characters all interact, too, you get the feeling they have these long, curious histories, the chemistry all working to sell the story seamlessly.
Of course, there's Schwartzman's star making turn as the idealistic escapist, which also makes for fun viewing. You may know a few people similar to Max in real life, but they never quite seem as interesting and deep as this beleaguered kid so far over his head and so disconnected from reality that he thinks he has his own set of rules to operate on. Perhaps he's gotten away with it for so long he finds himself invincible. Perhaps this wunderkind who borders on being a savant doesn't know he isn't the center of the universe, or, more likely, it's entirely possible he's never not gotten his way in any argument or issue, and the fact that the dominoes are rapidly knocking over is troubling him to the point that his fall from grace becomes a bit more plausible.
'Rushmore' is beyond quirky, and is the perfect example of an Anderson film. It has layers and layers operating at the same time, numerous characters to relate to, and plenty going on on screen to keep these tangled relationships intriguing and fresh. It's the kind of film that is so far ahead of its predecessor you have to wonder how exactly the writer/director managed to pull it off. With a strong cast, superb characters, and a runtime that breezes by in what feels like just minutes, this has to be one of the best comedies in the Criterion Collection, and most definitely the most worthy of Anderson's list of entries into it. This is the film that created more than a few stars, and it hasn't lost any of its sparkle over the years.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Criterion brings 'Rushmore' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD50 disc, with the traditional studio menu and disc operations. The film is packaged in a clear keepcase, along with a hefty fold out map/booklet, bearing spine number 65. While the film is owned by Touchstone, it's highly unlikely to see another Blu-ray release, since it's going to prove hard to top what's in this set...
"I got punched in the face. What's your excuse?"
Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'Rushmore' makes a fantastic, powerful debut on Blu-ray, with video strong enough to breathe new life into this already thirteen year old film and make it look like it was filmed yesterday. With strong, bold colors that never waver, band, or lose their punch (aside from lighting ambience and dreary settings sometimes masking their power), this disc is a clear upgrade over either DVD release, and the amount of detail visible in most any shot is unreal. There may not be a single Blu-ray disc that has this much character on Murray's face, period. There also may not be a single release that has such pronounced stray hair clarity, as the finest of the fine lines really come out at you. The picture has been worked over, as Criterion always does, with some light DNR, and there is a blip here and there that got past their filters, but it's remarkably clean and in borderline pristine condition here. Textures? Superb. Skin tones? Always accurate, from start to finish. Aliasing, or artifacting? None to speak of!
The only reason this disc isn't getting the five star score is a handful of softer shots (most particularly the club activity montage early in the film, which is a dramatic step back in picture quality), a bit of noise, and a few moments that looked too dark compared to the rest of the film under the same conditions. Needless to say, I didn't expect this release to look this damn good. Color me impressed, and happy to have such a wonderful film looking like this!
The audio for 'Rushmore' is no slouch, either. Actually, for the genre and the era, this track is actually really good! We hear solid separation in the score from the start, with fantastic clarity in the music's notes, and it doesn't end there. From the random room filling effects and solid rear ambience to nice light power in the soundtrack, we're always given a treat. Dialogue is consistently clear, even if it's somewhat front and center. The film doesn't have much movement or localization, at least not until the remote control plane scene. While bass does stay a little light through the film, it gets hot and heavy in the play finale, and it's actually quite powerful. The only complaint worthy moments I heard involved light distortion in the soundtrack at times, but even that may be a part of the recording itself, and not the fault of this disc. Fans will be pleasantly surprised!
'Rushmore' is worth buying solely for the dinner sequence and the absolutely hilarious dickish writing for it, but the rest of the film is pretty damned epic, as well. This is, by far, Wes Anderson's best film, in just his second effort, with easily his most memorable characters. This Blu-ray release is a winner, with the same extras as before, but vastly improved presentation qualities. I'd say it's definitely among the top for the year, a fantastic mix of superb film and disc quality. Get it. Get it for yourself and get it to gift to someone. By far Criterion's best modern film in their catalog, this is a must own release.