Wes Anderson’s breakout picture centers on Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a sort-of prodigy, son of a barber on scholarship at the tony Rushmore Academy. Rushmore is Fischer’s domain. Not academically but in every extracurricular activity (he is President, Model UN; Founder, Bombardment
Society; Founder, Rushmore Beekeepers; Founder, Max Fischer Players; and Director, Piper Cub Club – 4.5 hours logged, to name a few).
It is natural that Max would claim the winning new teacher (Olivia Williams) as his first love. Fischer, however, finds himself in competition for her affections, first with the rich, dissolute father of
two bratty classmates, Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and then with the ghost of Wiiliams’s dead husband. Max can defeat neither, finds himself expelled, and must rise anew to atone for his selfishness and stupidity.
Following up on the promise of his debut (Bottle Rocket), Anderson made a picture quite unlike anything before it, a blend of the fables of boyhood, the adult cynicism that follows, a beautiful romance, and the tragedy of loss (Williams’ has lost a husband, Fischer his mother), all scored by
British invasion B sides. As with this year’s Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson revels in the adult as child and vice versa. The result is charming and wistful, but also heartfelt. There is something both clever and moving in exchanges where Max is earnest and Blume dry:
Max Fischer: So you were in Vietnam?
Herman Blume: Yeah.
Max Fischer: Were you in the shit?
Herman Blume: Yeah, I was in the shit.
There are numerous bravura scenes, all sharply written (the screenplay was the work of Anderson and Owen Wilson). Fischer’s first “date” with Williams (he invites Murray as cover and Williams actually brings a real date, Luke Wilson) is an exemplar of Anderson’s melding of the comic and pathos.
Murray’s brief speech to the students of Rushmore is also noteworthy.
You guys have it real easy. I never had it like this where I grew up. But I send my kids here because the fact is you go to one of the best schools in the country: Rushmore. Now, for some of you it doesn’t matter. You were born rich and you’re going to stay rich. But here’s my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it. Thank you.
I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a better-scored film (Scorsese’s Casino, with the extended “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is close). Anderson originally wanted the entire soundtrack comprised of Kinks songs, but Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo chose a variety of classic-sounding, if not classic,
tunes. The effect is nostalgiac but a little unfamiliar, which tracks nicely with the whimsical, sometime sad story. “I Am Waiting” by The Rolling Stones is an example of an early, lesser know track where Jagger’s vocals are not confrontational and modern, but almost earlier century chamber music ala’ “Lady Jane.” Anderson uses this track in a brilliant changing of seasons montage. “A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy, “The Wind” by Cat Stevens, and “Oh Yoko!” by John Lennon are used in similar, successful fashion.
It’s may seem strange to call this an important film, but it really is. With it, Anderson emerged on the scene as a unique storyteller. When he showed the film to Pauline Kael, she loved it but told him, “I genuinely don’t know what to make of this movie” which strikes me as the highest of praise. It is one of my favorite films.