Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rushmore (Wes Anderson)

Max Fischer: prep school rebel. Or not.

Perhaps a film that really was quite a puzzle during its time that even veteran film critic Pauline Kael was "thoroughly mystified" by it, "Rushmore" bursts into the screen with a kind of humor and passive grace reminiscent of Robert Altman's works, but is sadly lacking in solid focus and direction. For newbie filmmakers, it is but normal to either commit rookie mistakes or wallow in self-indulgence (or both) along the way; for Wes Anderson in this film, it surely is the latter. Unlike his later works which are all clear about what their central themes are ('family' in "The Royal Tenenbaums", "The Life Aquatic", and "Fantastic Mr. Fox", 'brotherhood' in "The Darjeeling Limited", and 'young love' in "Moonrise Kingdom", among others), it is quite obvious that "Rushmore" isn't really sure about what kind of film it really wants to be. 

On one side, it's kind of like trying to be a coming-of-age story about a popular, seemingly self-taught student named Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) who's consistently getting his ass beat by the eponymous school's stern educational system. On another, it's really about an unlikely friendship between Max and a quirky industrialist named Herman Blume (played by the 'godfather' of quirks: Bill Murray), and also their intense romantic interest on a young, newly-widowed teacher (Olivia Williams). And then, as if in hundreds of other corners, there are also these little happenings that seem to have little to no significance to the whole story, but are nonetheless scattered all throughout the film by Wes Anderson simply because he is Wes Anderson, and that he can do off-kilter things in his films and still be labelled 'cool'. 

The performances, although all are imprinted with a sense of wry passive-aggressiveness that emanates from almost all of Wes Anderson's characters, come up quite short in terms of making me feel that this is indeed a Wes Anderson film. Adding on what I've said earlier, the script is a tad too aimless to begin with, which of course resulted in the film being two sizes too small for its projected ambition. It is, for me, like a standard-sized blanket that was stretched far beyond its limits to accommodate 5 sleepers. In short, "Rushmore" is like 3 films worth of stories were crammed into one 'school misfit-centric' picture and was then left just as that, which is nothing short of a textbook exercise in 'more being less' coming from the Futura font-loving director himself. 

Although much has been said about how Wes Anderson is slowly perfecting the art of handling multiple narratives with every film he makes, "Rushmore" is still here to remind us that he and his films were once not so masterfully absurd and quirky but instead quite mischievously unfocused and clumsy. And just like its hero Max Fischer, "Rushmore" seems more interested in extracurricular activities rather than its core priority, which is to tell the story in a non-alienating way. And is it just me, or is Max Fischer really isn't that likable and strong of a protagonist to really carry the film through? Perhaps there's a reason why Anderson's later films feature more than one main character, and also why Jason Schwartzman has merely taken on relatively smaller roles in his films ever since. It appears that one of Wes Anderson's weaknesses is extracting and then sustaining an interesting enough narrative from a single character, and "Rushmore" just goes to expose this glaring fact. The film is like "Dead Poets Society's" detached and peculiar younger brother, and he couldn't care any less about you, your opinion, and whether or not he gets himself understood. This is, quite simply, a film made by a director who's still testing the waters.

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