Rushmore (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There are certain movies with a special generational appeal that causes some kind of emotional link between the film and its target audience. Examples that come immediately to mind are Carnal Knowledge, Big Wednesday, and Swingers. I have encountered various people whose favorite movie is one of those three, despite the fact that none of the three is especially good. These films just seem to touch certain groups of people in a certain way. 

Another example is Rushmore, which was the ultimate Naked Emperor of the 90's. Several people picked this on their lists of the best 10 films they saw in the decade. I think I saw one list where it was #1. Both Premiere magazine and The Village Voice picked it as their #1 film of the year. Can you imagine?

In fact it is a small treasure - an eccentric, often fascinating film which defies categorization. Some people claim it is a great comedy, though I've watched it a few times and never seen anything especially funny in it. I suppose I should make a brief sidetrack here on the nature of humor. For many people, humor occurs when someone says something snide or nasty about something or somebody they don't like. I suppose Hitler and his buddies would say something like - did you see the crazy sideburns on those Hasidic Jews, and they would all have a grand laugh, even though that remark is not funny. Oh, it is possible to say something funny about those sideburns. Perhaps a script could have Dabney Coleman ask one of those guys if he has a slinky caught in his hair. That could be funny, especially with Dabney's delivery. But you just know that Hitler and his boys didn't make witty and clever jokes about their objects of contempt. You know they just put them down, and you know they all had a big laugh about it.

Other people, including me, require actual humor to generate laughter. Negativity is not enough. You can't simply portray authority figures as sniveling poster boys for the Peter Principle. You have to do something funny.

Rushmore is usually deadly unfunny, but it does mock authority figures, and it does so from the mouth of a student who considers himself brilliant and worthwhile, but is not adequately appreciated by the powers-that-be because he doesn't crack the books. Perhaps this fellow acts as a surrogate for movie critics or something, because a lot of them raved about this "comedy". Obviously they identified with the movie, and probably with the main character, and they thought it masterfully witty because they agreed with its POV. But basically it is just snide and one-sided, and doesn't even allow Bill Murray to be funny. How can you make Bill Murray unfunny?

"Well, Scoop, does Rushmore touch the heart? Maybe that's why people like it."

That's possible, I guess, if you identify with the main character. It is, however, exceedingly difficult to identify with him or anyone else in this film, because there is nobody from our universe. The writer and director have created an eccentric little world in which all human interaction follows its own logic, a logic not seen on our earth. There is no major character in the entire film who behaves as an identifiable human, the minor characters don't respond to our hero as they would in real life, and even the crowd reactions bear no resemblance to what would really happen as a response to the events portrayed. 

Therefore, what you have left is an eccentric, sporadically entertaining little film.

Don't get me wrong. I like this eccentric little film, because I like many eccentric films, but I can see that it is not in the top 10 movies of the decade. It reminds me of "Quackser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx", another small treasure which my college roommate felt to be the best movie ever made.

In fact, if I were to rate all the movies I saw in the 90's, trying to be as objective as possible, I'm not sure this would be in the top half of theatrical releases. Maybe. But it would be somewhere near the middle.  



The guy who organizes the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes is obviously a fan of the movie. According to RT, the top critics were 100% positive about the film!

OK, you be the judge. Here's what James Berardinelli said.

"Rushmore is intended to be hip and funny, but it's not really either. Too few of the jokes work, and the plot meanders without direction. .... While the director clearly wants us to like his young protagonist, that's almost impossible. Max is a schemer, a manipulator, a stalker, and an all-around despicable person. There's nothing remotely appealing about him ... Two and a half stars." 

Rotten Tomatoes chalked that one up in the Positive column.

Here's what Roger Ebert said:

"When plotting replaces stage-setting and character development, the air goes out of the movie .. Nice touches ... but their film seems torn between conflicting possibilities: it's structured like a comedy, but there are undertones of darker themes. Two and a half stars"

Rotten Tomatoes also chalked that one up as a Positive.

Now here's the really great part. Based on those two reviews, and no others, RT concluded that the film got 100% positive reviews (2 divided by 2 = 100%) from the top critics. Reading the same two reviews, I would have concluded either 50% or 0%. Ebert's review was so-so, and RT's internal logic requires its people to throw everything into either the positive pile or the negative pile. There is no neutral pile. So it could have gone either way, I guess. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • no meaningful features

To be accurate, RT's rating was 100%, with a margin of error of 100%.  

When a film could be zero percent and is listed as a hundred percent - I'd say that allows some room for error. Well, kids, I know we told you it was The Godfather, but it's actually Manos, the Hands of Fate

Anyway, let me be clearer, because it sounds like I'm putting the film down, and I don't mean to. This is a watchable, quirky, often interesting film, although it isn't very funny at all, and isn't as hip as it thinks it is. Both Mr. Ebert and Mr. Berardinelli called it accurately, and wrote it up fairly. Because it is considered a cult classic, my words and theirs are damning it with faint praise, but if it were unheralded, those same words would be praising it with faint damnation.

Or something like that. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, Apollo 86/100.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 88% good reviews. (That score is BS. See the main commentary)

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.6, Apollo users 72/100
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a smash, hit, but it took in $17 million domestic on a $10 million budget. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is the classic C+ movie, in that not that many people appreciate it, but those who love it do so beyond all reason. It is, in that respect, the Rocky Horror Picture Show of its own time.

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