#28) Rushmore (1998)

#28) Rushmore (1998)

OR “Wunderkind Powers, Activate!”

Directed by Wes Anderson

Written by Anderson & Owen Wilson

Class of 2016

This is a revised and updated version of my original “Rushmore” post, which you can read here.

The Plot: At Houston’s prestigious Rushmore Academy, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is an overachiever in every extracurricular activity from fencing to beekeeping, but is failing his actual classes. Max unexpectedly bonds with Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a local industrialist whose two sons also go to Rushmore. Around the same time, Max meets Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) the school’s first grade teacher, and develops an intense crush on her. Over the next few months, Max is expelled from school, and finds himself in a bizarre (and unrequited) love triangle with Rosemary and Herman. All of this told through the symmetrical, saturated lens of a young Wes Anderson.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “a cultural milestone of Gen X and millennials”, praising Wes Anderson’s “incisive detail to pop sensitivities” (which means…?). There’s also a quote from Anderson and Owen Wilson about the film’s “slightly heightened reality, like a Roald Dahl children’s book.”

But Does It Really?: Oh sure. In the last 25 years Wes Anderson has become one of the few American directors whose name is as much an audience draw as his biggest stars. “Bottle Rocket” would have been a good choice for NFR induction, but “Rushmore” is the first one that really feels like a “Wes Anderson movie”: the wonderfully framed cinematography, the detailed props and costumes, the appearances of Schwartzman and Murray. I’m glad the NFR found a spot for Wes Anderson, and “Rushmore” is a marvelous representation of his filmography.

Shout Outs: Wes Anderson has cited (among other movies) “The Graduate“, and “Harold and Maude” as influences on “Rushmore”. I get it: the former with its isolated young protagonist and an extended shot in a swimming pool, the latter with its age-gap relationship and Cat Stevens needle-drops. Also, “Apocalypse Now” is one of several Vietnam War movies paid homage to in Max’s play “Heaven and Hell”.

Everybody Gets One: Perhaps the least stereotypically Texan person to come out of Houston, Wes Anderson started making movies as a child with his dad’s 8mm camera. While attending University of Texas at Austin, he met fellow student Owen Wilson, and the two collaborated on a script about their prep school days (Anderson attended St. John’s in Houston, Wilson at St. Mark’s in Dallas). The “Rushmore” script sat on the back-burner while they focused on “Bottle Rocket”. Once that film was completed, the two returned to “Rushmore”.

Wow, That’s Dated: The usual late ’90s staples: cassettes, checks, giant desktop computers, smoking in public places. Though the biggest dated aspect is the idea that the romantic obsession a 15 year old has for an adult could be played for laughs.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Rushmore” was originally intended for a spring 1999 release, but Touchstone Pictures was so impressed with the film they bumped up the release date to qualify for the 1998 Oscars. Despite a slew of critics awards (and two wins at the Independent Spirit Awards), “Rushmore” received zero Oscar nominations. Although his subsequent films have been recognized by the Academy, and Anderson has received seven personal nominations, the Oscars have yet to hand a trophy to the man himself.

Other notes

  • This movie is Wes Anderson from frame one. Any other movie would just have their establishing text added to the lower third in post-production, but “Rushmore” has it projected onto a stage curtain.
  • This is Jason Schwartzman’s film debut! Unsurprising for someone in the Coppola/Shire/Schwartzman/Cage gene pool, he hits it out of the park. Every detail about his characterization is perfect; the costume, the physicality. You learn so much about Max even before he says his first line.
  • Brian Cox: Because Albert Finney costs how much!?
  • Anderson and Wilson wanted Bill Murray to play Herman Blume, but were convinced their script would never get to him. Luckily, Murray’s agent was a big fan of “Bottle Rocket”, and Murray loved the script so much he offered to do the film for scale. What makes Bill Murray work within the universe of “Rushmore” is that he adapts his talents to support the movie, and not the other way around.
  • I do love Seymour Cassel in this movie, he’s such a sweetheart as Max’s supportive dad. A total 180 from his other NFR appearance, the carefree playboy in “Faces“.
  • “Diving for Sunken Treasures” by Jacques Costeau? File that one away for later, Anderson.
  • Still the best line in the movie: “In summation, I have one question: Is Latin dead?”
  • That is, of course, Luke Wilson, Owen’s younger brother and fellow future movie star, as Dr. Peter Flynn. Watching Max become increasingly jealous of Peter is a highlight.
  • This movie could easily have been people sitting around talking, but Anderson and his team do a masterful job of making the dialogue scenes visually exciting. There’s a lot of movement, and wonderful usage of location shooting (Max and Herman’s scene at the factory comes to mind). Equally impressive, Anderson knows when to reign it in for the more intimate conversations.
  • Oh yeah, I forgot Alexis Bledel is in this. A Houston native, Bledel is one of the student extras at Grover Cleveland High, and was about two years away from her breakout role as Rory Gilmore.
  • Shoutout to Mason Gamble as Max’s sidekick Dirk Calloway. Only upon doing research for this post did I realize Gamble was also Dennis the Menace in the 1993 film version with Walter Matthau. That story again: Jane Fonda: 0 NFR movies, Kid from “Dennis the Menace”: 1.
  • This movie has one of my favorite tropes: the second act “everyone is sad” montage.
  • Alright, another “Die Hard” Not-Christmas movie, complete with Vince Guaraldi!
  • “Rushmore” benefits from something a lot of these NFR movies have in common: super charming lead actors distracting you from how awful everyone is. Schwartzman, Murray, and Williams are all so charismatic in their performances, you forget that their characters are all kind of the worst.
  • In the four years since my last “Rushmore” post I have gotten “Oh Yoko!” stuck in my head at least once a month. In fact, kudos to everyone who put together this soundtrack. “Rushmore” is a prime example of why there should be an Oscar category for compilation scores. Repurposing pre-existing material is as much an art form as creating an original composition.
  • Ah yes, that point in the late ’90s when we could start using the Vietnam War for comedic purposes. Not necessarily making fun of the war or its veterans, but rather poking fun at the heightened dramatic versions of the war a la “Platoon”.
  • Of COURSE a Wes Anderson movie would have a credit for “Calligrapher”.

Legacy

  • “Rushmore” was a modest success upon release, earning a decent box office return and receiving much critical praise. The film’s success led to Wes Anderson’s continued outpouring of highly stylized movies.
  • Wes Anderson’s dream to create a style akin to a Roald Dahl book came true in 2009 when he adapted “Fantastic Mr. Fox” into a cussin’ great movie.
  • Bill Murray pivoted from SNL alumni/movie star to indie darling with this movie, and has appeared in every Wes Anderson movie since “Rushmore”.
  • Pop culture doesn’t necessarily parody specific Wes Anderson movies, but rather his overall aesthetic. I still love “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders”, further proof that the best SNL skits of the past decade aren’t necessarily the live ones.

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