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...Rushmore had slipped between
the cracks for CV until now. It had been on our list of movies to catch up with since it
opened a couple of months back and developed a certain buzz - at least in some quarters. I
mean there are so many checks next to the title (more than Gods and Monsters, more
than Shakespeare in Love ferhevvensake!) in Film Comment's
"critics choice" ratings that expectations had to be high.
is basically a yawner, a high school sitcom dressed up to look like something deconstructed.
Our hero is Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a nerdy overachiever in extracurricular
activities who is neglecting his academic work. So we get a series of fast cuts with the vitae
of his club presidencies. athletic prowess, etc., etc. Funny? Not.
The premise on which
the intended humor is based is that Max really has learned all the obnoxious ploys of the
pushing-to-succeed adult, and he has the routine down to a T. So wheeling and dealing and
blackmailing and manipulating are all simply hysterical because it's just this precocious
teenager acting out. Funny? Uh uh.
Then we have the New
York Film Critics Circle giving Bill Murray the best supporting actor award for 1998 - for
all of 1998, a year in which rock solid performances by people like Ed Harris and
James Coburn were in contention. Murray plays Herman Blume, a wealthy, bored alumnus of
Max's school, father to a pair of obnoxious male twins who are also students at the
school, unhappy husband. He is attracted by Max's patter and they become friendly. Likely?
No. Is there a whole lot of acting going on here? No. Bill Murray is a good actor and can
be very funny indeed when he has a real role to play. Herman Blume has very few funny
lines to say and mostly hangs around looking sad and feeling sorry for himself. Bill
Murray walks through this role in bewilderment, seeking a character to play. It ain't
there in the script.
The problem is that
Wes Anderson, the director and cowriter, and Owen Wilson, the other writer, have not put a
single rounded character on the screen. They had a concept and worked out a highly
schematic plot to illustrate their satirical insights. They knew the targets they wanted
to poke fun at. But effective humor on the screen grows out of the development of
character; it's funny when it happens to real people not when it happens to lists
of characteristics, to constructs.
Olivia Williams, as
a fetching young widow wooed by both Max and Herman, is the only genuinely sympathetic
character in the entire film, and that is based more on her personal charm than on
anything the writers gave her. She's lovely. There are a handful of other characters,
including some well drawn cameos (Max's father, the bully Scot, the headmaster), but
peripheral characters cannot change what is at its core a hollow effort. Don't even bother
to rent it.
- Arthur Lazere