An irresistible burlesque with an originality of style which, for all its erudition (out of The Graduate, among other things, as some critics noted), led some critics to describe it as unwonted, and one in Dallas to complain its hero proved the young ought to be under sedation.
A tenth-grader at Rushmore Academy neglects his studies for amateur theatricals and school clubs, and is in love with a first-grade teacher. A wealthy benefactor loves her too. An attempt to win her admiration sends the boy to Grover Cleveland High School, where a sign on the fence warns that students may be searched by faculty at any time, and weapons are forbidden.
The two suitors engage in a kind of war. The older man wins the girl’s affections for a time, but is left despairing. Now the rivals join forces with a plan by the amateur playwright to build a “marine observatory” using the benefactor’s millions, simply to have her at the groundbreaking.
She doesn’t turn up, so the school play is employed to reunite teacher and benefactor in the audience with separate tickets. It’s a Vietnam drama, the older man is a veteran.
It’s the extravagance of these conceits as much as the deadpan and the sure style of performances such as Seymour Cassel’s as the boy’s father, a barber, that gives the thing stature and weight to move around in, which it often does with a handheld camera adroitly used.
The technique is akin to Capra’s, a very intricate screenplay lays the construction so firmly that an unusual quiet prevails on the set. Quick takes fracture the instant as movement or gesture.
The artist is gregarious, aloof, a Serpico in academia. Fragments of vicissitude coalesce in the viewing screen of a supposititious aquarium (cf. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissiou), a disaffected cuckold at the bottom of his own swimming pool, a drowned husband.
The expulsion from Rushmore initiates the epiphany of the student dramatic production, Heaven and Hell, a harrowing tale of love and war in the jungle of theatrical equivalence.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissiou
The dedication is to Jacques-Yves Cousteau, but to my mind the real dedicatee is Arthur Hiller, who made one of the first Hollywood Pictures, Taking Care of Business.
Esteban is eaten by a jaguar shark, a deal is reached to finance the filmed expedition but the bond company insists the creature must not be harmed.
Eisner used to say that a film director was a quarter in the Coke machine that was Disney Studios under his management.
Esteban is not avenged, but Hiller is.