29th Oct2018

‘Rushmore’ Blu-ray Review (Criterion)

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel | Written by Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson | Directed by Wes Anderson

rushmore-blu

15-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) dreams of greatness. Actually, he dreams he’s already achieved it. And why not? After all, he got a scholarship at the revered Rushmore private school. Except, according to the man who gave him the opportunity in the first place, Dr Guggenheim (Brian Cox), he’s the worst pupil at the school. It’s not for want of trying. Problem is, Max tries too hard. He’s the founder or president of every obscure team and group under the sun, whether it’s the beekeepers’ association, the choir or the kung fu team. He’ll even give wrestling a go.

Max’s enthusiasm awakens something in Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a wealthy local businessman. Herman is fascinated by Max’s directness and self-belief. They strike up a half-assed friendship. Then Max meets Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) and the spanner of love is thrown into the works. A teacher and a widow, Max sets his sights on wooing her. The same unwavering belief that drives his entrepreneurship powers his heart. Naturally, Herman falls for Rosemary, too. Before long there is a very unbecoming love triangle. Max has never lost before; never backed down. Can Max cope with rejection? Can Herman cope with his depression and see a future with Rosemary? Can Rosemary cope with either of these two nincompoops?

Returning to Rushmore twenty years on, it is apparent just how dark Wes Anderson’s sophomore film is. Max is a creep. He stalks Rosemary; assaults her; cheats his way into her home, into her bed. He’s cruel and thoughtless and he preys on her grief and her vulnerability. Max is also relentlessly horrible to Margaret, a girl closer to his age and personality type. Anderson and his regular cohorts (he co-writes with Owen Wilson here) aren’t strangers to the darkness – just look at the suicide themes in The Royal Tenenbaums, or the horrible tragedy that springs from nowhere in The Darjeeling Limited. With Rushmore, I feel that Anderson and Wilson are directly parodying the tropes of the romantic comedy, a genre which often legitimises abusive behaviour.

Murray doubles down on his sad-sack thing, which would define his turn-of-the-century career resurgence. The scene where he nonchalantly pours a miniature gin into a Coke can in his top pocket is typical of the less energetic – but no less skilful – style of physical comedy he perfected in his Second Coming.

Pathetic as they are, this is definitely a film about men and their second chances. By comparison, the female characters don’t have the best of times, and frequently serve the needs of the men. Margaret is bullied by Max and keeps coming back. But it’s Rosemary who does the real heavy lifting. Inexplicably drawn to a much older man and a much younger boy, she is a woman caught up in the wrong story with the wrong heroes. She is pure conventionality, while Max and Herman thrive outside of the conventional. Though Rosemary’s experience is a little discomfiting at times, Williams delivers a performance of quality and dignity.

Besides, the real love story is between Max and Herman. They are bound by their mutual love of Rosemary, but it’s only when they start to work together – to the sound of “Oh Yoko!” of course – that they move toward actualising themselves. The gradual redemption of Herman in particular is moving. The moment when Herman meets Max’s father – and his unspoken realisation that he’s not in fact a doctor – is particularly affecting. A barber is what Herman needs in that moment. Someone to sort out his hair.

If you find Wes Anderson to be unbearably mannered and hopelessly dry then Rushmore won’t change your mind, although it is more grounded and less twee than his later output. Many of the Anderson hallmarks are there: the extended pans and tracking shots; the single take camera drive-bys; the period pop music; the general sense of everything within the frame being contemporary yet out-of-time. Anderson is, at this early stage in his career, still seeing beauty and symmetry in the real world, rather than rendering the world as a diorama.

I can’t agree with those who insist that Rushmore is Anderson’s best work but it undoubtedly holds up. Two decades on, as his budgets bloom and his imagination wanders, perhaps what’s most surprising is how little Anderson’s style and worldview has changed.

Extras:

  • Auditions
  • 1999 MTV Music Awards shorts
  • Making of documentary
  • Storyboards, and a film/storyboard companion feature
  • The Charlie Rose Show, featuring Murray and Anderson
  • “Archiva Graphica” – a little art by Guy Peellaert
  • Trailer

Rushmore is out on Criterion Blu-ray from today, 29th October 2018.

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