Rushmore, by Albert W. Vogt III

I wonder about Wes Anderson.  While talking about other films that he has directed, I admitted to being charmed by his films.  They have a recognizable style, and I like it.  It is sort of like fashion.  When you have a look that you are into and seems to fit you, I see no reason to change it.  This applies to many auteurs in Hollywood.  When you are watching the films of some of the most famous directors around, not only are you more likely to get familiar fare, but it is also going to speak to certain genres.  For example, Quentin Tarantino’s offerings are usually action flicks with snappy dialog.  It would be odd to see him attempt a romantic comedy.  Yet, he does what he does well, and he has made quite the career for himself.  This logic is why I wonder about Wes Anderson.  I suppose you could call his movies romantic comedies, and yet in the middle of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), for example, there is a shoot-out in the title resort.  There are artfully done scenes, only to be disrupted by virtual pornography.  These themes can be found in all his work, and it includes some of his earliest films like Rushmore (1998).

Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) daydreams in class at the outset of Rushmore, which is also the name of the school. His fantasy has him being carried to the front of the class on a wave of enthusiastic support, though in reality he is a terrible student.  Still, he is well known around the halls for being a social butterfly and heavily engaged in extra-curricular activities.  There is a dizzying list of associations and clubs he either helped found or in which he is involved.  This is also part of the reason why he is failing all of his classes, and the school’s headmaster, Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox), tells the fifteen-year-old Max that if he does not improve he will be expelled.  Despite assurances to do better, when Max hears a speech at an assembly from school benefactor and businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray), Max now has a new distraction.  Because Herman’s own sons, classmates of Max’s, are disappointments, Herman takes Max on as a mentor.  Another new distraction is the school’s first-grade teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams).  When Max finds an inscription in a library book quoting Jacques-Yves Cousteau, his investigation into who the last person to check out the tome leads him to Rosemary.  It is love at first sight, and he makes it his mission to spend as much time with her as possible.  This also brings Rosemary to Herman’s attention.  With his sons being not what he hoped, and his wife obviously cheating on him, Herman quickly becomes infatuated with Herman.  Herman’s growing feelings are kept away from Max, who is attempting increasingly desperate romantic gestures over Rosemary’s objections.  The grandest comes when he tries to overtake the school’s baseball field in building a large aquarium for her many fish.  Headmaster Guggenheim promptly expels Max.  Making matters worse is when he finds out that Herman is seeing Rosemary behind Max’s back.  There then entails a prank war between Herman and Max out of a desire to one-up one another for the last stunt they pulled on the other.  The worst comes when Max informs Herman’s wife of her husband’s infidelities, leading to Herman being kicked out of their home.  The real victim in all this, though, is Rosemary, who decides to resign her post at Rushmore.  This, along with the loss the friendship of one of his Rushmore mates, Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble), sends Max into a state of depression.  He settles into a life working with his father Bert (Seymour Cassel) at the family barbershop.  What brings Max out of his despair is a visit from Dirk, who is seeking to make amends.  Dirk tells Max that Headmaster Guggenheim has had a stroke, and Max visits him in the hospital.  While leaving, Max happens upon an evidently downtrodden Herman, who admits that it did not work out with Rosemary.  Max then makes one last attempt to earn Rosemary’s affections, but instead uncovers her remaining feelings for her deceased husband.  Their conversation, though, gives Max the inspiration he needs to write his new play.  It is put on at his new high school, Grover Cleveland High School.  It is a Vietnam themed story, and it addresses many of the missteps that he has made along the way.  With Rosemary, Herman, Headmaster Guggenheim, and his father in attendance, each one of them see something in it that helps heal their relationships with Max.  In a gala following the show, everyone is getting along once more, and it closes with Max and Rosemary having a dance.

The reason I said in the introduction that I wonder about Wes Anderson is because of Rushmore.  Given Max’s character, the film has the feel of being semi-autobiographical.  Cursory research into this subject reveals that there is truth to this notion.  Yet, I do not wish to talk about the relationship between Max and Rosemary.  Between its 1998 premier and today, there have been too many news events of teachers doing inappropriate things with students.  I had this knowledge in the back of my mind while watching the proceedings, and because of that I was a bit uncomfortable with the final shot of the two of them.  Instead, I would like to focus on probably the least important aspect of the film: the school itself.  It appears to be a Catholic school, and this fits with the semi-autobiographical nature of the story.  Max loves Rushmore, and his stated goal early on is to never leave it.  As somebody who looks back fondly on my own experience in a Catholic school, I can empathize with this sentiment.  Yet, it was a little strange not to see them have to go to Mass at all.  That is a cornerstone of going to parochial school.  Further, aside from the uniforms and seeing a few priests, you would have no clue that it is actually a Catholic school.  Again, this is where the background of the director comes in handy.  There are also a few Catholic references in his other films.  Now, if I can only get him to cut out the moments that border on the pornographic.

I have discussed Rushmore to my usual degree, though I am not sure what to make of it in the end.  I typically like characters that I can like, that possess heroic virtues.  None of the people in this film have those, and that makes it less interesting for me.  If you set up a character as being virtually uncorruptible, it makes a film exciting to see how they handle temptations.  That is a big reason why I like Captain America.  What keeps me coming back for more with Wes Anderson is the atmosphere of his films.  There is a sense of reality to them, while at the same time being self-avowed movies, and this is perfectly exemplified by the play at the conclusion.  As such, it is a solid instance of Anderson’s work.


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