Monday, 7 May 2007
Rushmore (1998) dir. Wes Anderson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Brian Cox, Olivia Williams
“Rushmore” was Wes Anderson’s brilliant sophomore film after 1996’s “Bottle Rocket”. Anderson affirmed himself as an American auteur, creating a uniquely personal and entertaining film about a young man whose dreams of grandeur are hopelessly stifled by the mere fact that he is only a 15 year old adolescent.
Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a young private schooled high school student from Rushmore Academy is one of the most original protagonists of recent years. He’s 35 year old man in a 15 year old body. He speaks with the eloquence of a university professor, and breathes the air like an upper-classman, but sadly disowns his father for leading an underachieving life of lowly barber. In fact, this theme of father-son alienation is the common theme with all of Anderson’s work.
In the brilliant portrait-style montage of Max’s varied extra-curricular endeavours, set to “Making Time” by Creation, Anderson establishes Max as the jacks of all trades and master of none. Max Fischer is the king of his own insular world, but unfortunately he doesn’t manage to fool the professors. As Dr. Guggenheim says, “he is one of the worst we have here at Rushmore”. Max falls in love one of the teachers, Rosemary (Olivia Williams) and uses his faux intellectual skills to court her. But Rosemary doesn’t give in and she’s forced to give Max the cold hard truth. At this low point, Max’s world totally crumbles when he’s expelled from his beloved Rushmore and forced to go to public school. But Max makes the best of it and goes about his extra-curricular activities at Grover Cleveland High with the same gusto as he did at Rushmore.
Meanwhile Rosemary has developed an attraction to Max’s mentor and best friend, Herman Bloom (a delightfully disheveled Bill Murray). Thus forms one of the oddest love triangles we've seen on film. Despite a 40-year age difference Max and Herman’s rivalry becomes a childish game of quid pro quo. Max dumps a hive of bees into Herman’s hotel room, then Herman runs over Max’s bike with his car, then Max cuts Herman’s brakes on his car. Max and Herman eventually make up and together they join forces to stage a hilariously-serious high school play based on “Apocalypse Now”, called “Heaven and Hell.”
The film lives in the world of Max’s plays. The melodramatic dialogue and staging of his plays spill over into the dramatization of the actual plot of the film. When Herman and Max bond over their loss of Rosemary, their exchange is a romantic-comedy-moment – Herman: “She was my Rushmore”; Max: “I know she was mine too”. Or Max’s declaration of revenge against his nemesis Magnus, “Tell that stupid Mick he just made my list of things to do today”.
Anderson uses the 60’s mod music of The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens to wonderful effect. In fact, I’d argue Rushmore to be “The Graduate” of our generation with Max’s skewed point of view of the world similar to that of Ben Braddock’s. And in addition to the music they are both absurdist comedies told with dead-pan humour.
Visually “Rushmore” is told with the simplicity of a Whistler painting. He frames his images with vibrant colours and dynamic background and foreground activity. There’s so much life to the film, it takes a several viewings for it all to sink in.
I think “Rushmore” is still Anderson’s best film. “Royal Tenanbaums” and “A Life Aquatic” opened up the canvas for more characters and grander scope, but “Rushmore” is his most focused and most accessible. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Rushmore - Criterion Collection