While some of the music is good, it is mostly incomplete
It is rare for this reviewer to watch a film I know will probably drown me in sap, but mood calls for it from time to time.I also a sucker for music, so put them together and when the taste for sap occurs and there is such a film, I’ll watch it, even knowing it will be sap, sap, sap.
Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) is an orphan. His mother is a concert cellist, Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and the lead singer of a seen-seen-all band, Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers)—they had one night of bliss and . . .We learn that Evan has a natural ear for music based on the sounds around him. He makes an impression on the social worker (Terrance Howard). Having no reason to stick around, Evan runs away from a rural New York orphanage to New York City. Through a twist and turn he finds a kid about his age playing for change in Washington Square Park, Arthur (Leon Thomas III). Arthur takes the little scamp back with him to the dilapidated theater he and other street musicians call home. The place is run by a Fagan called Wizard (Robin Williams). Evan, never having touched a musical instrument starts making sounds on a guitar that turn out to be quite good. Wizard then teaches him a few things and act as his manager. He also changes Evan’s name to August Rush.Lyla goes about her life by giving up playing music and relying on teaching. Louis goes about his job—I think he is a real estate agent or other broker, it isn’t clear—giving up music too. Evan/August’s world is focused on music and trying to find his parents. The stronger Evan/August becomes, the stronger the urge for both of his parents to take up music again arises. The rest is . . . watch it or not.
The story is very sappy. However, if you know this going in, you can put aside the sticky goo and watch what is being presented under that layer.
It also requires a serious amount of suspension of disbelief. It is possible that he was never given access to any musical instruments during any of his classes at the orphanage, but that strains credibility beyond the breaking point.
The acting is good and at times very good (Mr. Thomas stands out in my mind). I cannot stand Robin Williams and his ability to play a Fagan in this film is about as convincing as any of his roles have been since he was Mork. He is flat and a distraction since he is surrounded by the most dynamic of the other actors.I’ve brought up Fagan twice. There is no way to review August Rush without some attention to Oliver Twist. The difference here being that the theft is not children being pick pockets but having talents who turn over their cash to Fagan, just as in the Dickens classic. They just come about the cash in a different way.
That takes care of the story which is really more of a vehicle for the music.What sets Evan apart is a natural ability with music. The film is awash in things like chants from nature, a drum and thump chant from the city, and more complex melodies and motifs as the kid wanders the twisting streets of lower Manhattan.
Music though, is a tool for him. Once he able to find an audience at all, his forever idée fixe springs to obsessive light. His real goal is to find his parents. Music is his language, his emission, his search-light. It remains only music for anyone around him, but for him it is the only way he is convinced he will be able to find his parents. Unfortunately, this is not Mr Holland’s Opus, we only get moments of August’s masterpiece which is a major failing if for no other reason than he has a shopping cart filled with things like hubcaps that will be used in his piece (they are shown, but unused in the orchestra at the end).How this works is why you watch the film, so I will not go farther. I promise the music information is not a plot spoiler; it is evident from the opening narrative.
On a totally separate note, I have to wonder why anyone is ever let into Washington Square Park if they don’t have a permit allowing them to film there. The Washington Arch monument has been used in so many films that I cannot count them and it hasn’t even always been located in the Village (Angels in America locates it in Brooklyn for some reason). Every time I visit it, I’m lucky enough to be able to wander through it without a permit saying I’m scouting the area for yet one more movie to use the park/monument. I love the arch and the area, but it need not be in as movies as it is. I’m a southerner so what I’m about to say could get me exiled, but why not use the gilded statue of Sherman at the south-east edge of Central Park from time to time? This is just personal gripe saying that I fear that one day there will be permanent film cameras around the park requiring directors to put in quarters to use them for a select period of time for their film.
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