August Rush (United States, 2007)
August Rush isn't just a bad movie - it's an aggressively bad movie. There are times when it tips the scales of absurdity and becomes almost comical. The film intends to be a modern day fable about fate and music and Dickensian characters but the sloppiness of the script and haphazard nature of the direction turns everything rancid. It's not difficult to understand what director Kirsten (daughter of Jim) Sheridan is attempting and equally easy to see that she doesn't achieve her goal. August Rush is constructed on a foundation of interconnected failures, the biggest of which comes at the very end. Instead of giving us the moment that a mawkish melodrama like this demands, we are presented with a diluted and minimally satisfying shadow of the moment. It's one of many things that August Rush does wrong.
The movie is about how fate contrives to bring three people together - "contrives" being a key word. 12 years ago, Juliard-trained cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and rock singer Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) shared a magical night together, but circumstances parted them the next day even though they were clearly meant for one another. Nine months later, Lyla gave birth to a bouncing baby boy but her father (William Sadler) gave the child up for adoption after telling his daughter the infant had not survived the birth. Alone and lonely, these two sad souls live their lives, not knowing there is someone out there connected to them. Meanwhile, that boy, who will eventually go by the name of August Rush (Freddie Highmore), ends up in an orphanage, where he is bullied. Eventually, he runs away and ends up on the streets of New York, where his amazing musical talents blossom under the sometimes cruel tutelage of Wizard (Robin Williams).
August Rush would like us to believe that some mystical Force (as the characters describe it, it sounds a lot like the one in Star Wars) binds everyone together. It isn't coincidence that Lyla and Louis meet and their single coupling results in August. It's Fate. Music binds these individuals together. Lyla and Louis both play instruments and August sees and hears music in everyday actions. Unfortunately, director Sheridan proves unable to make us believe in this. It comes across as silly, cloying, and cheesy. The characters seem not in the grip of Fate but moved by the hand of filmmakers who wouldn't know the meaning of "subtlety" if they looked it up in a dictionary. There's one sequence in August Rush when the contrivances explode out of the gate with such frequency that they're stumbling over one another. I was soon laughing so hard that I was almost in tears. When a movie implodes this spectacularly, it's impossible not to be impressed, if not necessarily for the right reasons.
August Rush has one good idea, but it's not effectively exploited. There are several scenes in which Sheridan attempts to get us into the mind of a musical prodigy and show how he sees the world. We look through August's eyes and hear through his ears, where every sound, no matter how mundane, becomes a note in the symphony of life in the city. We don't get enough of this, perhaps because Sheridan is afraid of overusing the technique. Had the movie focused more on August's peculiar kind of brilliant madness and less on the dreary soap opera of his possible reunion with his mother and father, August Rush might have offered something of value.
Freddy Highmore is a relatively high profile child actor, with a resume that includes significant roles in Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Judging by his performance in August Rush, one might think he had never been in front of a camera before. He's a blank slate, complete with glazed-over eyes and a slack-jawed smile. Highmore cries frequently and wears that stupid grin a lot, but he never emotes. It's impossible to accept August as a human being because there's nothing about him that seems real. Not only is he a musical genius, but he appears to be imbued with ESP as well. How else could one explain the final scene?
Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers fare better than Highmore, but this isn't going to be a highlight on the filmography of either. As Wizard, Robin Williams hits all the wrong notes. There's potential here for a genuinely creepy, frightening character but, in order to get a PG rating, the gloves are on, making Williams more cartoonish than menacing. Terrence Howard is criminally underused. Why hire a man with so much talent if he's going to be given what amounts to a pointless role with a couple of dozen lines of dialogue?
Now it's time to tap-dance around the ending without revealing anything. Big melodramas are supposed to build to a hugely satisfying final scene; August Rush ends with a proverbial whimper. The conclusion doesn't work on any level - logical, intellectual, or emotional. It's a miscalculation and a letdown, but that's in keeping with the film as a whole. The movie plucks at the heartstrings with the virtuosity of an untrained two year old. It's sloppy, contrived, and annoying. It elicits giggles and guffaws instead of tears and, when it's all over, many audience members will be annoyed that they wasted two hours. When the closing credits begin, the only rush will be for the exit doors.
August Rush (United States, 2007)
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Leon G. Thomas III, Jamia Simone Nash, William Sadler
Screenplay: Nick Castle and James V. Hart
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Music: Mark Mancina
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers