Welcome to Rushmore. Here, we follow the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), an eccentric 15 year old with a talent for playwriting and a love for extracurricular activities. He’s deemed one of the worst students of the academy, but don’t let this fool you – he’s a clever kid with high ambitions, the problem being the handful of character flaws that set him back. It’s a typical coming of age story, but it’s a coming of age story done right.
This may only be Wes Anderson’s second film, but we can already begin to see consistency in his stylistic choices going by the intro alone. The title is displayed in bold lettering across the screen, as was the case with Bottle Rocket, before a swift transition takes us to the setting of the first scene. Our protagonist slides into view and an overhead shot quickly follows, leaving us with a view of his desk just before he makes his way to the chalkboard, as seen below.
We can tell that he is now on steadier ground and has taken note of what worked and what didn’t in his first film. The following clip comprises a lot of the techniques he implemented in terms of camera angles and transitions, which will give you a general idea of his style as it was at the time:
Note how he has once again made clever use of colour schemes, having chosen greens and light browns that suit the film’s suburban feel, with just a touch of red and navy blue. Those last two colours are the ones of Rushmore Academy’s uniform, serving as an abstract reminder of the school’s role, even when it’s not present.
There are elements that Anderson has begun to incorporate with much more frequency, such as close ups and overhead shots. Not only is he taking advantage of the personality that they help give to a scene, but the fact that they’re a good method of conveying information to the viewer.
His penchant for symmetry is also more apparent here than it was in Bottle Rocket, and it will continue to be in all of his subsequent films. It’s everywhere, from the center aligned seating arrangements to the decoration in a room. Scene composition becomes more technical due to the focus given to the distribution of characters and placement of props, but gains more visual appeal as a result.
But let’s talk about the story. Rushmore is all about figuring yourself out, finding what you love, and doing it. For Max, this is being a Rushmore student. It also deals with learning to compromise when circumstance gets in the way of what you love, even if it means having to grow as a person or even finding something else to keep you moving forward.
As a result, the film is heavy on character development. Most of the main cast has at least one major problem that bears down on them: Max suffers on two accounts when he’s expelled from Rushmore while struggling with an unrequited love, Mrs. Cross (Olivia Williams) lost her husband, and Mr. Bloom’s (Bill Murray) is full of self-loathing and his marriage is on the rocks. Anderson is once again testing the bonds between friends and family.
The story is comprised of one problem after the other, of reconciliation and messing things up again, of making mistakes and trying to atone for them – in that sense, it feels very true to life. It’s not difficult to relate to the characters, or at the very least empathize with them, even when they make us want to grab them by the shoulders and shake.
The story progresses at a good pace; it doesn’t rush, but it doesn’t drag. After the conflict reaches its peak, there is a slight lull in the narrative and a feeling of “what now?”, but this is short lived. Things eventually begin to look up once more and, by the last third of the story, we’re back in steady ascent that culminates with a sense of completion. A lesson seems to have been learned at the end of it all, which makes Rushmore a satisfying watch that leaves us with a little bit of hope, not just for Max and everyone else, but for ourselves.