“…And All The Men And Women Merely Players”: Rushmore Considered

There are two things about my brother Chris that must be made clear.  One: if he recommends a movie to our family, then it will be a very, very good movie; and Two: one of his absolute favorite filmmakers is Wes Anderson.

And so it was that Christmas Eve found us together, watching Rushmore for the first time.  Though I’ve loved every Wes Anderson film I’ve seen, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen nearly enough of his work to justifiably call myself a fan.  Of course I’ve never let that stop me, but after seeing his second feature, I feel a little more qualified to keep saying it.

Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson (a very underrated writer, I think), 1998’s Rushmore is less a formal narrative than a character sketch, and what a character it gives us.  Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) has pulled off a feat you wouldn’t think humanly possible.  At the prestigious Rushmore Academy, he is simultaneously an overachiever and an underachiever, leading the student body in every conceivable extracurricular activity (most of which he conceives himself) while his grades bring him to the brink of expulsion.

But as much as he loves the school and fears losing his place in it, Max loves one thing more: his own narrative.  A playwright of insane ambition, or perhaps it’s ambitious insanity, he sees his entire life as a Max Fischer production, and the people in his life as characters to be placed for maximum dramatic impact.  And so the cast of his meta-play comes to include a depressed benefactor (Bill Murray) and a widowed teacher (Olivia Williams) in a triangle that never quite goes where you expect it to go.  Of course, it never quite goes where Max expects it to go either…

One of the first things I noticed about Wes Anderson is the genuine affection he has for his characters.  There are no “good” or “bad” people in a Royal Tenenbaums or a Fantastic Mr. Fox – everyone is complicated and messy and damaged, and even kind of beautiful, and he loves them for all of it.  And so their stories are at once whimsical and melancholy, at once funny and sad, at once slightly edgy and entirely heartfelt.  And never, never are they cynical.

All of that is in place in Rushmore, along with all the other elements that make a Wes Anderson film A Wes Anderson Film.  Clever cinematography and editing, by Anderson regulars Robert Yeoman and David Moritz.  A note-perfect score by Mark Mothersbaugh.  A marvelous gathering of songs, here spotlighting the best of the British Invasion (The Kinks!  Chad & Jeremy!  The Who!!).  And wonderful performances from the Wes Anderson Players, including Schwartzman, Murray, Williams, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble, and (of course) Wilsons Luke and Andrew.  Everything works.

Ultimately, the film’s beauty is that it’s so much like its characters.  If it doesn’t always appear to know where it’s going, it nonetheless ends up right where it needs to be.  By its final curtain, I’d come to love the people in it as much as Anderson does.  And that pretty much sums up why I love this film.

Though I’ve not found it on Netflix Instant, Rushmore has just been released on Blu-Ray by Criterion (so you know that’ll be an excellent presentation), and isn’t too hard to find on DVD.  If you’re not ready to buy it, at least see it.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

And with that, I’ll call a wrap on my latest you-gotta-see-this post.  Thanks as always for following along, and until the next time, “be seeing you…”

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