Rushmore (1998)

It’s not Wes Anderson’s fault he launched an almost sickening movement towards quirkiness in cinema. You can’t blame him for creating something that in turn, birthed monsters like Napolean Dynamite and the vomit worthy Little Miss Sunshine. After Bottle Rocket (his debut) and this (his calling card), Hollywood picked up anything with offbeat characters operating within a world that doesn’t understand them ( a gay, suicidal, proust scholar, although excellently portrayed by Steve Carell, was almost taking the piss in Little Miss Sunshine).

It would be a lie to say that Anderson created a new genre but he certainly operates within his own world with it’s own rules and idiosynchrasies. Walk in on an Anderson film and it is instantly recognisable, a calling card for his unique vision. Burton and Gilliam have done this forever and it creates a comfortable atmosphere of familiarity. None of the above is necessarilly a good thing but nor should it be the easy target for critics searching for an angle of attack. It is what it is basically, and you knew that when you bought the ticket.

Rushmore tell the story of Max Fischer, a precocious student at Rushmore, a prestigious private school. He’s a scholarship student surrounded by the uber rich. He fills his time with extracurricular activities;president of the beekeepers, director of the Rushmore players, etc. His grades are secondary in importance and suffer accordingly. Befriending an ex alumni (Bill Murray) and falling in love with a primary school teacher do not help his academic studies and soon he is expelled.

Fischer got into Rushmore on the strength of a play he wrote when he was nine. He has continued in this and we see stage versions of Serpico, Boys ‘N the Hood and Heaven and Hell. These are spectacularly overblown and yet still representative of the films they portray. This is exactly the same as a Wes Anderson film. They feel like extended fancy dress parties, or forced productions of classics. Everyone has a uniform, everyone speaks in an emotionless pitch, everyone has their place and they know it. Anderson knows what his films will look like before he shoots them (like the Coens) and any deviation will be met with dissapproval.

This is what makes Anderson watchable (over and over and over). An attention to detail to rival Kubrick makes his fake world seem real, his skewering of standard characters believable and his America a better place. The real skill, however, is transcending these affectations, making the audience give a shit about the characters, their conclusions and emotional states. Curiously, his characters rarely display emotion, it is all suggested and implied, augmented by emotive music and long silences.

Rushmore is the first Anderson film to fit the template (creating it if you will). Montages, slow motion, grand music, misunderstood genius, middle age, stilted dialogue, absurd self confidence and lack of shame. These are all present and correct. Schwartzman deserves a lengthy career after his portrayal of Max, he veers from nerdy to supremely confident, distraught to driven and does it well. Murray lends his hangdog ™ looks to a weary perforrmance of a man pushed too far in banality. This film led to somethin of a late blooming for Murray, Lost in Translation, Life Aquatic and Broken Flowers followed. Blame Anderson and be grateful.

Rushmore‘s real triumph is in it’s feel. Instantly comfortable yet refreshingly different. A sentiment that could be stamped onto Anderson and long may it continue. A maverick within the system is still a maverick.

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