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(1998) ****

Sky Movies Select: Sunday 3 January, 7.15pm

Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer, a peculiar teenager at the exclusive Rushmore school for boys. His wayward scheming and frankly dangerous attempts at fund-raising force exasperated principal Brian Cox to place Max on ‘Sudden Death Academic Probation’. Max has other distractions.

The president and founder of innumerable useless school clubs and societies, he strikes up a friendship with steel tycoon Bill Murray, whose twin sons attend Rushmore. He also writes ‘hit’ plays for the drama students, clichéd works crudely plagiarised from the movies. Besides, Max is in love with first grade teacher Olivia Williams, a young widow understandably bemused by the boy’s evidently amorous intentions (the pictures in her bedroom are photos of co-writer Owen Wilson).

Wes Anderson’s acutely observed and bitterly funny comedy of desire and disappointment constantly surprises and delights with its curiously fragmented progression to a happy ending of sorts. Schwartzman is inspired as Max, playing the insane schoolboy deadpan under a ludicrous red beret. Olivia Williams is charming as the object of his obsessive affection, Seymour Cassel is touching as Max’s kindly dad, barber Bert Fischer, and Bill Murray is brilliant as the wealthy alumnus who despises rich kids, especially his own.

The film’s strange tone of affection and affectation is beautifully matched by the carefully chosen soundtrack songs, which range from Cat Stevens and The Kinks to John Lennon and jazz man Paul Desmond. The following year, Alexander Payne made Election with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. School comedies used to be so smart.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 89m