By Tony Schwab, Staff Writer
After seeing “Rushmore,” it should be clear where you stand on Wes Anderson. It has his love of ambitious, socially awkward young people and accomplished, moody adults. The soundtrack is full of the second- and third-tier classic rock and folk that Anderson never tires of. Visually, the movie is less elaborately thought out than “The Magnificent Ambersons” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but it has the same love of extremely organized settings. For me, the way these elements are each a mix of pleasant and annoying summarizes the career of a now somewhat overrated, although very talented, director.
The movie is about Max Fischer, a student at the Rushmore Academy. He has an overachiever’s sense of arrogance, lying about his father’s job as a barber and blowing off his classwork. He impresses Herman Blume, the wealthy father of two students at the school. The two become friends, but clash when they both fall for a teacher, Rosemary. From here the movie goes in several directions, following Max as he goes to another school and then engages in an annoying, over-the-top prank war with Blume. Here Anderson’s love of madcap action goes too far. Eventually the two make up and the movie has a strong final stretch, ending with a sense that Max and Blume have both become more mature.
Jason Schwartzman’s Max is best handled when the movie makes his immaturity obvious. Embarrassing himself while hitting on Rosemary or assuming that he can talk his way out of expulsion, there’s a touching sense of how little he understands other people. When we are asked to like Max, he becomes unbearable. Overachieving, he is treated not as a normal person, but an amazing creative genius making work that in no way matches the personality we see otherwise. This boy-genius act feels cutesy, especially compared to the real pathos Anderson finds at other points.
Bill Murray is very good. In one of his first serious, elder statesman-type roles, Murray takes his normal lovable surly loser image and turns it on his head. Here he loathes himself for being rich and successful instead of being neurotic and unemployable. You wish you could see his life in more detail, especially the relationship with Rosemary which is almost completely off screen. These scenes are worth ten times the ones of Max running all of his clubs.
This kind of thing sets back most of Anderson’s work. He wants characters that are believable and struggling with real conflict. At the same he bases each of his plots around adventure narratives that take up much more screen time than anything emotional. Thereare touching moments in all of his work, but you walk away with a sense that he is holding back. When will the characters’ emotional stuntedness get treated directly?