“The music is all around us — all you have to do is listen.”
Endearing orphans, sad and lost musicians, well-meaning clergy and social workers can often combine to create something saccharine and too predictable. But award-winning director Kirsten Sheridan shows she can aptly strike the balance between realistic and cloying. August Rush comes off as true as any fairy tale can, maybe even more so.
This is the story of an 11-year-old orphan named Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) who lives in a home for boys. Although the bucolic setting is pretty, poor young Evan suffers emotional torment from some of the meaner guys. They want to squash his eternal optimism and sunshiny belief that his parents are out there somewhere, waiting for and wanting him.
His story really begins with the meeting of his parents. Lila Novacek (Keri Russell) is a concert cellist with a promising career and Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a talented guitarist who plays in his brother’s rock band. They meet one mystical night, coming together by way of a mutual attraction to a distant street busker’s rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” As they chat, their attraction turns from the music to each other. Being a PG-rated movie, their physical union is conveyed by their waking up together (fully dressed) on the morning after. Lila is mortified, and goes into panic mode, while Louis is still the picture of contented after-glow. He does manage to get her to agree to meet later that day, as she grants him a “yeah, you didn’t imagine it – I am in love with you too” smile.
The movie continues with these many far-fetched bits – but it’s easy to just shove the common sense out of your mind because the story is just so darn appealing. Of course Lila gets pregnant, of course Louis doesn’t know, as they are now in different cities. Oh sure, they almost had their meet-up that first day — at least Louis gets to see Lila’s dad sternly hustling her into a car as she gives him a departing plaintive glance. So, our lovely Lila is pregnant, but due to an accident, she ends up in the hospital without her baby. Her dad lies and tell her the baby didn’t live – when in secret he’s forged her signature on adoption documents, and now 11 years later we are graced with young Evan and his Dickensian dilemmas.
The kid, who has never taken a music theory or instrumental class in his life, is compelled to constantly conduct music. Or rather he channels all the sounds and rhythms around him into a vibrant, aural, albeit internal, composition. His conviction that he gets his love of music from his still living parents and his aforementioned quiet optimism make an impression with a visiting social worker, Mr. Jeffries (Terrence Howard). Naturally he gives the boy his business card, in case Evan needs something. And because this is that sort of movie, Evan decides to run away from the orphanage to find his parents shortly after Mr. Jeffries’ visit.
He ends up hitching a ride into Manhattan and there he meets a young but quick-witted street musician named Arthur X. Already jaded for his age, Arthur initially doesn’t want the doe-eyed Evan following him around. But at the sight of Evan’s cash, he changes his mind and the boys buy a pizza to bring “home.”
Arthur brings Evan to his group of scheming street urchins, all musicians, and all children. They live in a squalid, abandoned theater under the fierce rule and tutelage of Wizard (Robin Williams). Wizard is a downright mean SOB, something he doesn’t try to hide, even with the newcomer. He is also manipulative and calculating but he does show occasional glimpses of compassion towards his group. And he has an obvious deep love of music. Wizard is soon taken with the Evan’s extraordinary talent, and not only brings him out to play at the most prime street locations, but he tries to book Evan into clubs. And this is when our modern day Fagin changes Evan’s name to “August Rush.”
While Evan’s musical life was coming together, both Lila and Louis had stopped performing. But as things unfold each find their way back to their music. But do they find their way back to each other and to their unknown son? Of course, it wouldn’t be sporting of me to give it all away — got to assume that there are still folks who have not seen this film. And it is worth seeing on deeper levels. For those who enjoy somewhat predictable happy endings, yes. For those who enjoy superb acting, absolutely.
Robin Williams is easily the best here. His portrayal of Wizard is by turns creepy, sympathetic, and cruel. Russell and Meyers do just fine as the bewildered and besotted young musicians/parents. Freddie Highmore wears a similar deer-in-headlights expression that he had in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the lad can act. And there was a sweet Jamia Nash who plays Hope, a young girl living in a Harlem church shelter. She had the best facial expressions and an ever better voice. Picture Cosby’s Rudy with honest-to-God grown-up pipes. Soap fans may know her as Ana from The Young and the Restless.
In terms of DVD extras, August Rush only features some deleted scenes here. Worth seeing, but not a deal-maker in a purchasing decision.
But the movie is worth owning, because the story is strong and poignant enough to warrant multiple viewings. Even when you know not every moment is plausible, even when you know that a happy ending is on schedule, you’re surprised when you realize that queer hammering sensation is actually your heart pounding, and that salty taste on your lips isn’t popcorn, it’s the flavor of the tears being shed onscreen, even if your own eyes might manage to stay dry.Powered by Sidelines