Rushmore (1998), or Take Me Away To Pastel Heaven

3 04 2009

Whether you like Wes Anderson or not, he has one thing going for him that many directors have a hard time with, and that is a unique personal aesthetic. Nobody else makes a movie quite like him. He has certain sensibilities that distinguishes all his movies; from the kitschy set design, to the indie hipster music, to the detached cinematography, and right down to the oddball costume design. Go ahead and tell me that Michael Bay directed Con Air. I’ll believe you even though I know it’s not true, because Simon West doesn’t have a personal vision; he just has Michael Bay’s personal vision, and I think that should be a punishable offense in itself. Regardless, Wes Anderson is making his movies his own, and I think we need a lot more of that and a lot less of the cookie-cutter shoot-the-action standard fare. Rushmore, today’s film, was his second feature, but his personal style had already started to form, and it makes for great cinema.

Max Fischer, at 15, is the king of extracurricular activities at Rushmore Academy. He is in the fencing club, the cheerleading squad, the beekeeping club (??), and a plethora of others. He is always starting up clubs and different meetings. His downfall is that because of this, he is one of the worst students at the Academy, as he never has time to worry about his grades. It gets to the point where expulsion might become an option, but he doesn’t seem overly concerned. One day he meets Herman Blume, a businessman whose sons go to the academy (they are total jerks). The two form a fast friendship, despite the age difference, because of their mutual respect for one another. Things start to sour, though, when a new teacher named Ms. Cross comes to Rushmore and they both fall in love with her. They become bitter rivals over her, which leads to outlandish battles for her affection, and eventually personal attacks against one another. Can these two reconcile before one of them goes too far? Will Max be kicked out of Rushmore for his poor grades? Does Ms. Cross actually want either one of them?

This was a very enjoyable experience for me, and here’s where the personal style diatribe comes in. It is a typical love triangle story, but Anderson puts enough twists on the idea to make it all work without being reminiscent of anything else. It uses a standard plot, but in many ways only to thrust it to the background to focus on tone, scenery, and the sheer talent working to achieve something completely original. It is a comedy with genuine emotion behind its eyes. It is about decorum used to disguise how someone really feels. It is about relationships crossing boundaries of age and preconceptions. It is also about putting bees in someone’s hotel room when you really dislike them. It’s about all these things and more, and that is why it is so enjoyable.

Bill Murray plays Blume on what would become a recurring trend in his later career of playing the straight man. He is a wizened older man who lets the young Jason Schwartzman make all the humor happen. He uses his dead-on delivery and dry repartee to do the work for him, and it might be just as funny as his loud and ludicrous younger days. Speaking of Jason Schwartzman, when is this guy going to make it really big? I suppose he could have already if he really wanted to, with all his ritzy Hollywood connections, but I don’t really see him in the theaters enough to call him a “huge star” yet. Either way, he is very talented, and this was a showcase for him to show off his range. He has grown a lot as an actor, but I still enjoy him here when he is exploring his boundaries. It is a lot of fun to watch him do flips on the cheerleading squad and cut somebody’s brake line within the span of only a few minutes. The supporting cast is up for the task, but they don’t stand out nearly as much as they do in later Wes Anderson films. Olivia Williams is good as Ms. Cross, I will say, as she is a strong, independent woman who knows what she wants. You go, girl!

There are many quirky comedies out these days, and most of them suck pretty voraciously. But this is a quirky comedy on its own terms, unlike those other films, which were only quirky on other movies’ terms (mostly Wes Anderson’s films’ terms). It’s a movie with a lot of replay value, as well. You could watch this a number of times and still find things to laugh about. I’ll experiment with this more as time goes on, obviously. But go rent Rushmore this weekend and let loose with some intelligent comedy and some great film making by a native Houstonian. I give it 8 1/2 beekeeping clubs out of 10.

Tomorrow is another reader request! We will be taking a look at The Gods Must Be Crazy!

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