Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rushmore (Anderson. 1998)

"The Max Fischer they give us is going to grow up into Benjamin Braddock. But there is an unrealized Max who would have become Charles Foster Kane."

Will I seem extraordinarily unhip if I give this film a bad review? Maybe. Will I seem hopelessly wide-eyed if I write wildly about how much this film works? Maybe. Either way, Rushmore is a film that seems to force friends to stand on opposite sides. Before I start this review I want to warn the hipsters of cyber space that their world does not stir my interests. This is a film that seems to be missing something important. Through this write up – I hope to figure out what that something is…

Our hero, of sorts, in this film is a student at Rushmore academy named Max Fischer. He is a smart, awkward and peculiar fifteen year old boy with a knack for ending up on top of a situation. Fischer is an instant hit with the audience. His unusual pull is powered by his completely original demeanor. Though he is an awful student, he is still very bright. He has the glaring potential to do anything, but he falls behind because he cannot stop doing everything. Max Fischer is a walking contradiction of cinematic stereotypes. He is one half Ferris Bueller, one half Benjamin Braddock and one whole conglomerate of mixed up emotions and ideas. This character was created by Wes Anderson and his long time friend, Owen Wilson. He is brought to life by the perfectly cast Jason Schwartzman.

Schwartzman is the most valuable asset to Rushmore. His performance is so sinister that we never once question the ridiculousness of his character. We see Fischer writing and putting together disgustingly elaborate stage shows that could never be produced in the presented school setting. But we never question it. We believe that Max was able to pull it off. We start to believe that Max Fischer can do anything. Until we meet Ms. Cross.

Rosemary Cross is a teacher at Rushmore that Max fancies. Played by Olivia Williams, Ms. Cross is presented as a moral intellectual to counter Fischer’s unique character traits. The most hilarious part of the entire film is the scene where Ms. Cross finally tells Max that she is too old for him. Her delivery is stark, serious and cold. “Has it ever crossed your mind that you're far too young for me?” Max’s reply is somehow starker, more serious and even colder. “It crossed my mind that you might consider that a possibility, yeah.” Now we are dealing with some interesting ideas. How does a boy, who never fails, deal with failure. I wish the film would have traveled down this path for the remainder, but instead Anderson and Wilson took a turn for the sophomoric. And we are cheated.

This is where we introduce the comedic talents of the legendary Bill Murray. Herman Blume is a self-loathing business tycoon who hates almost every facet of his life. He is strikingly similar to Max in his behavior. He is childish, stubborn, awkward and overbearing. His admiration for Max is rivaled only by his jealously of the youngster’s opportunities. And as Blume continues to follow Max’s lead, he also falls head over feet for Ms. Cross. Insert hilarity? No sir.

It is here that I lose interest in Rushmore as a comedy. Anderson and Wilson managed to create two of the most original characters that I have ever seen in a comedy, but they make the mistake of putting them on opposite sides of the film. I feel like they dangled perfectly written dialogue in front of my face only to snatch it away to save their film’s independent feel. By the end, I was longing for more Schwartzman/Murray interaction…lots more of it. Their characters were molded flawlessly, but we were cheated out of something special.

Bill Murray has made a career out of his hilarious supporting roles. In fact, I am more interested in his second billings than I have ever been in a film that he has starred in. Rushmore is a film that allows its supporting stars to steal the show. And though Murray gives his second best performance here, this is my major problem with the whole thing.

Jason Schwartzman was lucky enough to be handed one of the most enigmatic and frustrating characters I have ever seen. He stands his ground as a “leading man”, but it is the writing that lets him down. Wilson and Anderson could have taken us into a much deeper, darker place with their comedy. They had the ability to make a lasting picture that would have broken the “occasional chuckle” norm that Rushmore lulls you in to. Even the film’s quirk is not enough to save it from formulaic plot driving. I did not want a happy ending for Max Fischer. And I again feel cheated.

Rushmore has developed a massive cult audience of baby hipsters and scene kids, and for solid reasons. This is a film that is different for the sake of being different. Its insistence on being original is what choked the originality of its very compelling characters. Like Roger Ebert said, “The Max Fischer they give us is going to grow up into Benjamin Braddock.” This, for me, is unfortunate because his story has already been told. Guess what? I feel cheated again....

Rushmore: C+

My Next Film...Scarface (Hawks. 1932)

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