"The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then... do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore."
The Royal Tenenbaums has always been my favorite Wes Anderson movie and I always thought it was because it was the first one of his that I had seen, but it can officially move over now because I have a new favorite: Rushmore. This film was so charming, the soundtrack so cool, and the characters so well developed that I was completely in love with it once the credits started rolling. Not only is it my favorite Wes Anderson film, but it also belongs on my all time favorite list as well. I am a sucker for coming of age stories and this was a great one with perhaps one of Anderson's best developed characters from all his filmography: Max Fischer. All of Anderson's films have a similar style with offbeat and quirky themes and a hyper reality where the characters sometimes resemble those we imagine in our heads when we are reading a fantasy book. At times they are hard to connect with because they seem to belong in another time and place, but Wes manages to draw us into his world kind of like in the same way we are drawn to a theater play. That is why I also loved the special touches from Anderson as he incorporates school plays with wonderful productions into his movies. I think Rushmore is his most complete film with a charming ending, a memorable odd couple pairing, and a weird love triangle that features some of Anderson's most romantic work (similar in that sense to Moonrise Kingdom). As much as I enjoyed his first film, Bottle Rocket, it was Rushmore where he truly defines and finds his style with those production designs that seem taken from a stage play or a colorful children's book (especially seen in the scenes where Max visits the principal's office). I absolutely fell in love with Rushmore and this will be the measuring stick for Wes Anderson's films from now on.
This wonderful and witty screenplay written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson begins with a dream sequence where Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is in math class solving an extremely difficult equation and thus saving his classmates from ever having to open a math book again. His friend, Dirk (Mason Gamble), awakes him just before a millionaire industrialist named Herman Blue (Bill Murray) is about to begin his chapel speech. He has two sons in Rushmore Academy, one of the most expensive and prestigious schools in the country. Max is fascinated by this man's speech and so at the end he introduces himself to Herman and the two form a special bond together. Max is in love with Rushmore and his entire life revolves around the school and he finds in Herman someone who has achieved the success he's aiming for, while Herman is a disillusioned man who has lost his purpose in life and sees in Max someone determined who enjoys life. Up to this point one would think Max is the perfect student, but the school's headmaster, Dr. Guggenheim (Brian Cox) explains to Herman that he actually is the worst scholarly student due to his involvement in dozens of extracurricular activities (such as being the editor of the school newspaper, president of the chess, astronomy, beekeeping, and French clubs, captain of the fencing team, and director of the school play). Unlike the rest of the students, Max isn't a wealthy kid, his father Bert (Seymour Cassel) is a barber, so he's a scholarship student that is about to lose it due to his bad grades. Max and Herman's friendship is tested when they both fall in love with the widowed first grade teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). This is were the thin line between friends and enemies begin as Max and Herman begin a feud over Miss Cross.
What makes Rushmore stand out above other Wes Anderson films (I have liked all of them) is the great pairing of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray's characters. Both of them, despite having completely opposite personalities, complete each other because they see in each other what they want to become. Max aspires to be successful in life and doesn't want to become a barber like his father (that is why he always lies about his profession), while Herman despite having it all is completely disillusioned with his marriage and spoiled children. Max's passion for life is what captivates Herman because it is what he has lost. This bond is broken once Rosemary enters the picture and they both become infatuated with winning her love. Max will do anything for her, including building a giant aquarium in the school's baseball diamond or directing a successful play. Max is my favorite character despite not being entirely likable, while Murray's portrayal of Herman is sensational. He delivers one of his best and most memorable performances and shines in each scene he shares with Max or Rosemary. There are several hilarious lines and quirky moments that also balanced out perfectly with the more subtle emotional and romantic ones. This film has a lot of heart and Anderson really delivers here with his unique style (a lot of his trademarks can be found here like the slow-motion and wide angle shots, the inclusion of at least one Rolling Stones song on the soundtrack, the underwater shot, and the influence of the Charlie Brown cartoon). It's an inspired film and Anderson creates a unique world that at times seems distant from reality, but somehow he manages to create these rich characters that are easy to identify with or relate to in such a way that they manage to touch us without being overly sentimental.