August Rush (PG)
Starring: Freddie Highmore
“Follow Your Heart…Follow the Music”
Ever seen a movie that had you convinced you were watching the greatest piece of cinema since Gone with the Wind until you left the theater and realized that your emotions had been manipulated by a mawkish screenplay and the cherubic face of an emerging acting prodigy? That’s the effect August Rush, director Kirsten Sheridan’s overly sentimental tear-jerker, had on me.
Evan (Freddie Highmore) was given up for adoption at birth. Now eleven, Evan runs away from an overbearing orphanage and embarks upon an incredible journey to find his parents. His parents—Lyla (Keri Russell), the cellist in a New York orchestra and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the lead singer of a struggling rock band—met and conceived Evan on a one night stand…and then never saw each other again.
Evan possesses exceptional hearing abilities: he can pinpoint, filter, combine or adjust specific sounds to create musical compositions in his mind. He stands at a busy corner in NYC and, as if in a trance, conducts the cacophony of sounds that fill the air around him. Evan believes that following the music will one day lead him to his parents.
In Central Park, Evan encounters a talented young guitarist who takes him to a group of homeless musicians. In exchange for food and a place to sleep, the orphans pay tribute to the Wizard (Robin Williams), a surrogate father who exploits their talent for financial gain. It’s the Wizard who bestows the titular nickname upon the youth, but Evan is cautious of the capricious adult and soon breaks away from him and his musical misfits. Evan’s prodigious knowledge of music eventually leads him to The Julliard School of Music and ultimately back to his parents—ironically, Evan’s parents are drawn to his music, not the other way around. The movie climaxes with an emotional family reunion that, thankfully, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
A modern retelling of Oliver Twist, August Rush also borrows from many other “orphan seeks parents” films. However, the movie’s performances bail out the oft-sappy story: Russell, Rhys Meyers and Highmore are all superb, and Williams’ Fagin archetype is wonderfully nuanced and worthy of Oscar consideration.
Even though much of the movie seems far-fetched (an eleven-year-old at Julliard?) and oppressively heavy-handed, August Rush somehow manages to entertain and inspire. If the film’s ending feels a bit abrupt, know that it’s probably a blessing in disguise since a dénouement of any length would have tipped the scale from saccharine to maudlin. And no one would want to rush out and see that!