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A good director is one because they have been able to differentiate themselves from the pack with a particular style. Even if critics don't like it, a director with his or her own style has clearly done something right. Wes Anderson is one of those directors who has one and has drawn critical praise. From his first film, 1996's Bottle Rocket, to this year's Moonrise Kingdom, the second a Wes Anderson film starts, you know that it could only have been made by one man. From the very first shot of Moonrise Kingdom, I knew that this was going to feature Anderson's quirky humor, his unrelenting attention to detail and his classic mix of tragedy and comedy. While Bottle Rocket does tell the viewer where Anderson's career is going to go, it wasn't until his second film, Rushmore, that he appeared as a major new force in the film industry.
Released in 1998, Rushmore centers on 15-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a middle-class student at the elite Rushmore Academy thanks to an academic scholarship. He has his mind focused on everything... except getting good grades. Instead, his mind is set on making an impression with his extra-curricular activities. He's the captain or the founder of Rushmore's beekeeping club, the glee club, astronomy society and many more. While his brilliance is recognized, the fact that he's failing all of his classes doesn't help. After he gets put on “sudden death probation,” Max strikes up a friendship with Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a 50-year-old self-made millionaire who is fed up with his life and his two dim-witted twin boys who go to Rushmore. Max is particularly impressed by a speech Mr. Blume gives. “Now, for some of you it doesn't matter. You were born rich, and you're going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs. And take them down,” Mr. Blume tells the Rushmore students.
Max also strikes up a relationship with the lovely Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), Rushmore's first grade teacher. He thinks that he can start a romantic relationship with Miss Cross, who is dealing with the recent death of her husband. But when Miss Cross and Mr. Blume hit it off, Max decides that everyone is betraying him and decides to exact revenge.
The acting in the film perfectly fits with Anderson's amazing attention to details. Jason Schwartzman makes an incredible first impression as Max, eating up every quirky element of the script and delivering the dialogue perfectly. As Mr. Blume, Bill Murray shines. Mr. Blume is probably one of his most memorable characters, right next to Steve Zissou in Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).
If Bottle Rocket planted the seeds for Anderson's career, Rushmore is really where it starts to bloom. The story of a middle-class boy struggling to find his way in life is a theme that runs constantly through his films. One could even suggest that all the characters in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) are just grown up versions of Max Fischer and the child stars of Moonrise Kingdom are what he was as a young child. However, all of these characters really just seem to embody Anderson himself, which isn't too much of a stretch, considering that Anderson shot Rushmore at the same school he went to (and was also kicked out of). Anderson takes his many cinematic references, boils them in a pot, adding his own experiences and the end result is often a film that actually feels more universal than personal.
It doesn't even matter that Rushmore's details are almost so outrageous that it could never happen. Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson created a character that is in everyone who ever felt out of place. Max's father is a barber, not a millionaire. He got into Rushmore because of academics, not because of money. Everyone has always tried to do something outrageous to get attention and it often works against us. Max finds that doing too many things to get attention gets him into deeper trouble. He has to learn to work with the people he is already friends with, like Mr. Blume and Miss Cross. In a sense, what Rushmore boils down to is a kid understanding how to use what he has and embrace his talents.
While Anderson's more recent films may have been on a bigger scale than Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums may be more beloved, this film is still quintessential Anderson and probably his best. He is, quite simply, the most unique director working now, something even haters have to admit.