Where Wes Anderson may now typecast his own style of direction, there were those features he made before the sickly perfect designs of The Grand Budapest Hotel catapulted him to stardom and typical outings that rang truer and grounded. Rushmore does not rely on the bright colours or deeply saturated endeavours found in his later, more colourfully experimental works, but on the casting and variety Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray can bring to his work. They are not alone in that, and the perfect pairing of quality performances and Anderson’s typical design choices would come together time and time again, but less so as he breached the almost self-parodical voyeurism of his later features. Rushmore, at least, is grounded.
Rather than an explosion of fanciful colour and abstract French influences, Rushmore roots itself in the American school system and the idea that youth is a barrier to the lifestyle of an opportune and bold world. Max Fischer is the everyman, the jack of all trades desperate to connect with everyone and everything in that smug, well-educated and self-important way. Fischer is a reflection some will find uncomfortable because it highlights a part of us all that wishes to succeed in a way he does. He may be conniving and elicit in his way of extracting information or chumming up with students and teachers alike, but the drive he has and the independence he has founded for himself is intense and interesting. Anderson does well to hold a focus on that for much of this feature, not just because it is one of his most efficient and well-explored storylines, but because Schwartzman is a fantastic draw.
His performance is observant of the people around him, reactionary to their actions and always trying to keep up the persona of a well-oiled machine knowing what to do with himself and his time. A lengthy but comical montage shows all the extracurricular activities he excels in but omits the human skills necessary to survive in the real world. Building up the barrier of interpersonal relationships with a setlist of accomplishments and sporting activities is handled well by Schwartzman and Anderson, whose pairing in Rushmore makes for keen and exciting viewing. Between them, they have a stellar and risky leading performance that relies on an at-the-time nobody, guided by a director who was soon set for the big jump to Academy Awards recognition. A nomination, anyway.
Nominated or not, Rushmore fans can take pride in the fact that they got to Anderson and loved and engaged with his work before it was popular to do so. No medals for that, but probably a similarity to be drawn between those audience members and Fischer’s demanding desire to be included and exclusively adorned by his peers. His ass-kissing strike of desires comes crumbling down more through his own veracity than anything external. No prodding to bring down the empire, Fischer just crumbles in on himself. In a way, it is sickly and satisfying at the same time, to see someone reborn through a self-inflicted wound. A genuine desire to be the most active person is often not what one person needs, and for Fischer, that is unravelled well throughout Rushmore, a feature that relies on the smarts of Anderson, not his style.