Rushmore ★★★★½

This is probably one of the few films I enjoy that I have a strong personal history with. A complicated history that makes me feel unreasonably attached to the film. Most movies I liked when I was younger I rewatch and don't like. I don't have a lot of respect for my taste as a youth, especially as a teenager. This is a film that I have liked, more or less, ever since I saw it. I loved it as a teenager when I first saw it (I think it was the first Criterion DVD I ever purchased), I liked it just fine in my early-to-mid twenties (even as my viewing of The Life Aquatic caused me to question Anderson as a filmmaker, and I didn't see a new movie by him until Moonrise Kingdom), and now on recent rewatch I am back to loving it. But what I love about it now has almost nothing to do with what I loved about it when I was younger.

When I first saw the film I was probably only a little older than Max Fischer is. I identified strongly with Max. I had never been in a relationship before. I mostly saw women as what most movies told me they were: objectives you had to psychologically manipulate, as if they were a video game you played with your mind and the reward for beating the game was romantic love. I also had dreams of becoming a filmmaker. I envied Max's chutzpah and recklessness in pursuing his dream. When Max made snotty remarks to Luke Wilson at dinner I laughed and more or less felt on his side. I felt more empathy for his hurt feelings at Rosemary Cross bringing a date to his play than I did for a stranger Max passive-aggressively bullied due to those hurt feelings. In all its impossibility, I may have even wanted Rosemary and Max to end up together.

Now, of course, I don't want any of that. What I like most about the movie is the way it understands how sociopathically self-obsessed teenage boys can be. I like the way the film satirizes teen comedies, in which older women inexplicably end up having sex with young men due to the whims of plot. And the way it satirizes youthful romanticism, a romanticism that has the puritanical gall to find sex beneath it. The visceral realness of Cross confronting Max and basically exploding all of his fantasies in one short monologue still cuts me like a knife gouged directly into my brain. It activates a nerve I have tried hard to bury deep in my psyche, a nerve full of embarrassment and regret and self-loathing at the idiotic teenage dummy I was 16 years ago, when Max and I were basically interchangeable as romantic human beings. I used to hate this feeling, but now I have come to love it. Anderson and co-scribe Owen Wilson seem to peer back at themselves with fresh, acute, and harshly judgmental eyes. But, also, with a kind of human sympathy. Max is neither as fully hate-able as I once saw him (in my late twenties, the most recent rewatch before this one, I felt that neither he nor Blume did enough to warrant the happy ending they receive), nor is he anywhere near as relatable as he was when I was a youth. He's a human teenage boy. Probably the most fully realized human teenage boy I have ever seen on film. Not romanticized, but not fully vilified. He is frequently completely awful. Yet on his way to a fuller understanding of being a human person. I don't know exactly how to feel about the ending, still. It points to Max's desire for the perfect moment not being entirely quashed, of his want to rearrange the people around him into a narrative that flatters him. And he gets it this time, however briefly, but that's what we're left on. The slow motion, the joy, the blaring Rod Stewart, it used to make me cry every time.

Now I am less certain. It points to the thing that keeps this from being a 5-star film for me. I don't like Margaret Yang. While she has a few great moments ("You're a real jerk to me, you know that?" and her insistence that Max acknowledge her as his girlfriend), she still exists as a consolation prize for Max. A smart, beautiful young woman who likes Max for inexplicable reasons. The film smartly avoids the trap that many narratives fall into, that is to depict a terrible male character being awful in relationships but then suggests that he doesn't really need to change, he just needs to find a person who complements him, who is as awkward, or socially uncouth, or whatever as he is (the prime example I can think of is Michael Scott and Holly Flax in the US version of The Office). But why Margaret Yang holds out, and is still willing to date Max after all his awfulness, is never explained. She doesn't have her own agency, the way that Miss Cross does. Rosemary Cross, for me, has become the film's greatest character. Her subtle, largely unspoken, sadness tears me up to watch. I think Olivia Williams' performance is amazing. And while I noticed the oedipal relationship idea before, obviously, with Max and her, it didn't occur to me until this viewing how significant it is that she teaches first grade. The last full grade Max would have experienced before his mother died ("She died when I was seven."). That realization hammered home the sense of loss Max continued to feel, and the way his attempts at romance with her were an a way to try to fill that emptiness. Understanding her character better helped me to stop hating Max, and feel a genuine connection to him that I hadn't felt since I first watched the film.

I could write a lot more. About how I think this is the only really good performance of Bill Murray's career. About Anderson's quick maturity after such a shitty freshman effort in Bottle Rocket (a movie that embraces many of the dumb movie romantic attitudes this film makes fun of). About the way he manages to use artifice to highlight, rather than downplay, an underlying raw emotional sadness. About this being the only one of his films that somehow makes his blaring pop song music video moments work, rather than self-consciously decimating any sense of diegesis. I won't though. I think this is enough. Welcome back to my heart, Rushmore. I thought for a while that Moonrise Kingdom had got the better of you, but now I know better.

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