Today I watched Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998)
We kick off Wes Anderson week with a characteristically awkward and off kilter comedy set in and around the Rushmore Academy. It stars Jason Schwartzman in his debut feature as Max Fischer, an eccentric 15 year old student who seems to think very highly of himself and has enrolled himself in every extracurricular activity available, creating new ones when available. This all stems from his philosophy that life is about finding what you love and doing it, so he is trying a little bit of everything. This comes to the detriment of his grades though, which puts him on academic probation. During this time he begins making the moves on an elementary teacher at the academy named Ms. Cross while also becoming friends with the wealthy industrialist Herman Blume. Through these events, Fischer’s nature of selfishness really gets the better of him and he continually pushes things too far, getting him expelled. This is when the real meat of the plot comes out as a strange love triangle begins to form between Fischer, Cross, and Blume.
Fischer is not a very likable character and making a film that focuses on such an insufferable prick is a real balancing act that I think this film only barely succeeds at. Fischer strikes me as rather pretentious, always trying to impress others but never really feeling his actions. What finally manages to humanize him also explains his actions to some extent and is also a strong motivating factor for the other two protagonists as well. While it is never overtly stated, he seems to be grappling with a lot of grief over the death of his mother, which is subtly implied throughout the film. Ms. Cross is also struggling with the grief of losing her husband, which may have happened some time ago but still haunts her. Meanwhile Blume’s grief is more internalized, he hates himself, his family, and what he has become. Perhaps between Cross’s lovesickness and Blume’s internal struggle the real depth of Fischer can be seen.
While this film may lack the eye popping pastel colours that would come to define Anderson’s visuals, it still has his unique skill at drawing the audiences eye to symmetry, or the lack thereof. It really is a great looking film with some effective tragedy hidden beneath the unique comedy. While Schwartsman does a very good job handling a troubling protagonist, it was Bill Murray who stole the show for me, though that comes as no surprise, Murray is as powerful a performer as they come. Between the two of them they handle a pretty intense balancing act between character drama derived from two people you would probably not want to spend time with in real life, and the humour necessary to keep one interested in actually watching them. 4/5