Mario’s Movies: Flashback Films – “Rushmore” (1998)

By Mario Ricciardi

Max Fischer is the precocious and charming 15-year-old king of extracurriculars at the prestigious Rushmore Academy. From the calligraphy club president, to the lacrosse team manager, to a Kung Fu club yellow belt, to president of the Rushmore Beekeepers, to writing and producing his own plays, Max can do just about anything the school offers. Anything except earn himself passing grades.

An auteur’s dramatization of the original overachieving hipster, Max idiosyncratically strives for a higher place in society through blunt communication, higher education and stylish, thrift-worthy outfits. Between extracurriculars, Max is befriended by rich industrialist Herman Blume, who ironically falls in love with the same first grade teacher Max has been pining for. The competition between the two is the pivot point of the film’s many shenanigans and side romps, but ultimately only serves as one piece of the colorful puzzle that “Rushmore” is.

“Rushmore” is a whimsical boy-meets-girl story layered with Wes Anderson’s unique visual style. It is primarily a comedy and it works as that, but humor is hardly what makes the film special. The key to “Rushmore’s” timelessness is its subtle studies on life, my favorite of which is the dean of “Rushmore’s” assertion that Max is one of the Academy’s worst students, juxtaposed with the vast array of clubs and experiences Fischer takes part in. Max can’t score over a D in algebra, but he’s a debate captain, can speak French and logged four and a half hours flying a piper.

Another subtle observation, a much more general one, is the depiction of loss and love throughout the film. Some characters are in love, some are grieving the loss of loved ones and some are in both situations. There is also a very interesting depiction of the toll divorce takes on people regardless of how lovelessly the relationship has aged.

The cast does a great job balancing comedy and substance with Anderson’s direction. Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer) does a job well done portraying the 15-year-old cosmopolitan. His performance is at least partially responsible for the following decade’s generation of hipsters. Bill Murray (Herman Blume) puts forth a performance that shows that even Bill Murray is willing to take a step back for an honest project that he believes in. The third star of the film, Rosemary Cross played by Olivia Williams, plays a wonderful and hurt love interest deserving of as much analysis as Schwartz’s lead.

All around, “Rushmore” is an enthusing fable that digs deep into the tropes of humanity. The film animates with Wes Anderson’s artistry and vision. Anderson’s craftsmanship allows the film to transcend the teen movie genre and truly become a piece of cinema.

“Rushmore” is often overlooked by critics and filmmakers next to Wes Anderson’s current body of work, but it is no lesser of a film. By watching “Rushmore,” we are not only seeing a stepping stone of one of our great modern-day auteurs, but also getting to watch art influence life and vice versa in the best of ways.

????? (5/5 Penguins)