When you think of adolescent outsiders on film, the last quality you expect them to have is boundless school spirit, but that’s just the case for “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), who’s a member of every society on his private school campus, including the Beekeeper’s Society. “Sharp little guy,” comments Bill Murray, after he gives a chapel talk and is waylaid by Jason afterwards (trailed by his young chapel partner, Mason Gamble). “And he’s failing everything,” replies the headmaster (Brian Cox), who isn’t (like most private school headmasters on film) portrayed as a one-dimensional prick. “Rushmore,” directed by Wes Anderson, who co-wrote it with Owen Wilson, is a bit of an odd school – there’s none of the adult stock characters you’d expect, including the inspirational teacher. Well, actually there’s a teacher (Olivia Williams) who attracts the attention of both Jason and Bill, and she does inspire them – but not exactly to greater scholastic and moral heights. “Rushmore” features a main character who is a playwright, and the movie itself takes place in three acts.
Bill has three sons, two of whom are twins Jason’s age, and who do not respect, connect with, or even like their father (the fact that he gave them rhyming first names may have something to do with it). When he asks if Jason will be attending their party, one points out in disgust that there will be girls there. But Jason actually has more serious problems than lack of social assets, as he is called into the headmaster’s office early on and informed that he is a class away from flunking out of Rushmore, to which he wound up receiving a scholarship based on a play he wrote. Jason may look like your typical movie dork, but he has cojones of brass – suggesting that Brian add the option of a post-graduate year so that he won’t have to leave the school. But he gets distracted when he finds a library book which leads him to try and arrange for an aquarium to be built for Olivia. He also manages to keep Latin from being dropped from the curriculum.
Bill, who is tapped to fund the project and is shown in the ultimate movie symbolism of submerging himself underwater in his pool, finds himself falling for Olivia, too, and soon he and Jason engage in a series of one-upmanship pranks, which lead to Jason leaving the school and having to go to a public one. Undeterred, Jason continues to stalk Olivia, who has a nice doctor boyfriend (Luke Wilson) already. But eventually, both Jason and Bill reconcile and do some growing up. Jason writes and directs another play, which makes a coda to the film, and even finds an age-appropriate love interest (Sara Tanaka). The film ends with a dance, but not the typical high school prom that would appear in a mainstream movie.
“Rushmore” does not have any scenes where the hero gets up in front of his peers and makes a speech about values because it isn’t always necessary for this to happen in order for the viewer to realize that the character has grown and changed. Instead, Bill and Jason, who at times appear identical in age and maturity, take some steps back and then finally, a few forward. Jason greets the audience of the play with the news that there are earplugs available if anyone needs them during the presentation, introduces his father as a non-neurosurgeon, and even apologizes to Sara for being a jerk. So the film does end, after all, on an optimistic note.