It’s a bit of a shame that Wes Anderson was arguably the most influential director of the 2000s. Granted, he’s released a mere six films, but since he came onto the scene as such a full-formed visionary with a distinct sense of style, other directors have spent the past ten years trying to steal from him as much as possible. And this quirk-as-substance occurred at the exact same time that Anderson’s films dived into a hermetic, smug hole, becoming stories about sad rich people. (Not for nothing did he stop writing with Owen Wilson and start writing with Noah “hack” Baumbach.)
When I saw The Life Aquatic, I was sitting next to a woman who just yelled out “weird” every time something “funny” happened. She was correct. None of the action went with the characterization. It was weird for weird’s sake, nothing meaningful about it. I walked out of The Darjeeling Limited. I couldn’t take it. And I watched Bottle Rocket every day in high school. It was a meaningful and major film for me. (Funny enough, Fantastic Mr. Fox - while not quite a return to form - was the best Anderson film in years, partially, I think due to the freedom of someone else’s work, and the fact that Anderson could spend time being completely meticulous over the animation, stop-motion animation is the perfect genre for a man who makes dollhouse films.)
But I think the fact that Wes Anderson has become shorthand for “indie quirk” has taken away from his very real talents as a director. Rushmore is a perfect movie. I adore it. It’s one of those movies that I’ve ingested; I read a recent piece of mine and I realized that Rushmore (and the Gilmore Girls) was definitely an (indirect) influence. But it’s there, for sure, and you can suss it out.
I think the reason that both Bottle Rocket and Rushmore spoke to me was the fact that they’re films about strivers and they’re films about class. What’s appealing about Bottle Rocket - having a bunch of twentysomething guys find meaning by becoming great “thieves” - it’s an awesome metaphor for how confusing the twenties are. How you want to define yourself while the world’s telling you no. And do you remember when it came out? How the comic rhythms were so off, unfamiliar, and different. It felt like they were speaking a new language.
Rushmore, on the other hand, is a romance between a boy and his school. For Max, Rushmore is a ticket beyond being a barber’s son. It’s what makes him special, what makes him somebody, and when he’s without it, he’s adrift. Bill Murray is such a wonderful foil to that character as the deeply unhappy Mr. Blume. The oil man may have everything - including the riches of a self-made man - but he doesn’t have Max’s enthusiasm and zeal for life. It’s what makes his betrayal with Max’s number-one crush Rosemary so cruel, and truly a declaration of war.
The journey in Rushmore is about a kid trying to define himself and figure out how to exist - wonderfully - in the world. It’s more than fitting that the film ends with Max finding himself again, putting on an epic Vietnam play, older, wiser, and sadder. And when it ends with a dance with Miss Cross, set to The Small Faces’ “Ooh La La,” it’s truly a magical moment in film.
“Ooh La La” is such a great song - lyrically, it’s a bitter warning to a young man from his grandfather about the mysteries of women, but the open way that Ronnie Wood sings it, loping across lines like poor old granddad/I laughed at all his words, it swings back around to innocence and joy. He hits the chorus wonderfully: “I wish/that/I knew what I know now/When I was younGAH,” stressing the last syllable of “younger” like he can’t even pronounce it right, in a super UK way. Mixing that song with Max Fischer smiling enigmatically at Miss Cross, saying he didn’t get hurt that bad - it’s transcendent, and the the film completely earns it. It’s why the film is a classic.