Don’t worry, anyone who actually read my “Things I Like” articles and noticed when they disappeared: I have not run out of things to like. I just needed a new little jolt of inspiration to pick this up again, and this came when today I re-watched one of my all time favorite movies, Rushmore.
I remember watching Rushmore for the first time when I was a junior in high school and was just getting into movies. My friend had recommended the movie to me, but I was initially put off by the R-rating because I actually wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies, and just the idea of watching one seemed really scandalous. My parents must have made a concession, though, and I remember renting it from Blockbuster, which so seems like a relic of a past time now. I mean, Blockbuster? Like I actually had to leave my house and have someone drive me to a separate location??? (Yep, I couldn’t drive, so someone else had to drive me everywhere all the time. I was a pretty cool teenager.)
Rushmore was my first exposure to Wes Anderson, and it really changed me forever. I now have mixed feelings about Wes Anderson – his movies have increasingly become parodies of themselves, although I really enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox – but at the time he was a complete revelation. I had never seen a film so stylized and different. The way he used subtitles, and production design, and music – it was all amazing. I remember at the time I was taking a filmmaking class at Pasadena Art Center and made a film that was pretty self-consciously influenced by Rushmore. After screening it in class, one of my classmates told me it reminded them of a Wes Anderson movie. That was the highest compliment I had ever received.
It’s so funny, the gulf between watching the movie when I was sixteen and watching the movie now. For one, like I said before, this movie opened so many creative doors for me that I had a hard time looking at it critically at all. Now, though, I see why it appealed to me so much, and why it continues to appeal to me when I’ve grown bored with many of Wes Anderson’s other movies.
For one, I love the depiction of a kid going through growing pains when in high school. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot more since working on my high school comic, and something that I wasn’t really aware of when I was in high school msyelf. Max Fischer, the bespectacled protagonist played by Jason Schwartzman, is so awkward that it’s almost painful. However, where I found some scenes almost unbearable to watch when I was younger (i.e. the scene where Miss Cross is packing up her room and brutally rejects Max) are much easier for me to watch now. I think this is because I realize that, yes, Max is making a lot of mistakes, but really, he’s only making mistakes that all kids make when they’re young, and they’re often not permanent. Luckily, most of the mistakes you make as a teenager are washed away with maturing and growing up and (hopefully) learning from your mistakes and not repeating them. Sure, Max’s mistakes are dramatically heightened, but he’s only doing what any reasonably ambitious high schooler does. He tries on different personalities and personas, he pursues a love and is rejected, he lashes out at everyone around him. Now, with a little bit of distance from this time in my own life, I’m able to look at this a lot more affectionately. Sure, it’s embarrassing, but it’s growing up.
I think it’s these elements of personal messes that makes this my favorite Wes Anderson film, by far, as well. My problem with a lot of Wes Anderson’s films is that they’re too clean, too stylized. With every word, I can feel the deliberation and calculation that went into it. All of the sets are too neat, all the way down to the deliberately chosen fonts and graphic design. Aesthetically, I can appreciate this, but I find that this doesn’t satisfy me, story-wise. What’s great about Rushmore is that the characters bleed around the edges (while, admittedly, still looking fabulous; I wanted a green velvet suit so badly when I was a teenager!). They swear; they don’t say what they think, until they do at the worst possible moment. The sets are allowed to get a little messy, and almost look like something (dare I say it) out of the real world. I love the Fischers’ little unkempt yard next to the cemetery. To me, this says so much about the characters – the lack of finesse and feminine touch in the bachelors’ home. Although its become Wes Andersons’ trademark, I like that it’s not too clean.
The film also boasts some of my favorite characters, ever. Max Fischer, despite his craziness, is still someone I admire for his incredible ambition and lack of self-consciousness (although that often tips into lack of self-awareness). His character is so unique, and so specific that he feels real. I totally had a crush on him when I was sixteen years old (I guess that pretty much tells you what kind of sixteen year old I was). Bill Murray is amazing as Mr. Blume as well. He has two of my favorite scenes in the movie: 1) when he’s at his sons’ birthday party, completely full of self loathing and 2) when he’s having a complete nervous breakdown and he runs into Max in the elevator at the hospital. Both scenes completely illustrate his character so well, and are hilarious, to boot. Miss Cross is actually pretty great, too, mostly because she doesn’t just function as an obscure object of desire. She’s actually given her own life, and her own motivations; she’s not just a toy for the men in the movie to play with and around.
Of course, I’d be completely remiss if I were to not discuss the last scene of the movie. I think the ending of Rushmore is my favorite ending to a movie ever, of all time. All of the characters and events come together so beautifully, and it feels so completely earned…every character in the film has been through the emotional wringer, and has grown so much, that having them together after the triumph of Max’s play just feels right. I know it’s become a stylistic tic of Wes Anderson to a) score his films with vintage British rock and b) end all of his films with a slow motion shot, but the way these two elements combine is just so completely gorgeous I can barely stand it. When the Small Faces song starts to play, and Max and Miss Cross exchange that last, meaningful look of understanding, and of regret, and they come together to dance one last time…oh my god, it KILLS me. I tear up just thinking about it.
I’m always terrified to watch movies that I loved as a teenager, because I want to keep those crystalline memories of how much these movies meant to me, so I’m happy that Rushmore has held up so beautifully. Of course, now it means something completely different to me than it did then – it’s more of a love letter to those who are young and ambitious and are in love, rather than a kind of template to live your life, which I think is how I thought of it – but it’s still great, and still one of my top five favorite films.
P.S. The others: Harold and Maude, Trainspotting, The Incredibles, Dazed and Confused – an entirely different kind of teen film!
P.S.S. The soundtrack to this film is absolutely amazing.
P.S.S.S. There will be a new Whatever up very, very soon – tomorrow, hopefully!