As a film, director Kristen Sheridan's interpretation of Paul Castro's and Nick Castle's original story about an orphaned prodigy's quest to find his family isn't compelling at any level. Story? Formulaic. Characters? Stereotypical. Cinematography? Flat. Locations? Familiar. Sets? Spartan. Acting? Please. In short, a dud of a motion picture.
Yet I want to see it again.
We meet August Rush (Freddie Highmore) as an eleven year old boy in an orphanage who, against all odds, believes his parents are still alive. Because he can hear them. Or more precisely, he can hear their music. Rush is convinced that if he performs this music for a large enough audience, his parents will hear it and come find him.
The music contains a wonderfully scored melody shared by high society, world class, Juilliard graduate, New York Philharmonic cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and low life, earth scum, high school dropout, bar singer Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Two opposite ends of the cultural, political, and social spectra, who meet by chance, have a night of unbridled rooftop passion, and produce a love child.
Thomas Novacek (William Sadler) has no admiration for Connelly and does everything to keep these two love birds apart. A tyrannical patriarch who obviously knows what's best, Thomas takes advantage of a small hospital mishap and turns over his grandson to child protective services. He lies to Lyla, telling her the child is dead. The truth, that Rush is alive and well in an upstate orphanage, is a secret which Thomas keeps until his last day on earth.
Once Lyla finally learns the truth, she is off to New York to find her son. Connelly is off to New York to find Lyla. And Rush is off to New York to find the parents he has never known, pursued lovingly by social worker Richard Jeffries (Terrance Howard) and destructively by street musician Wizard (Robin Williams).
Sound contrived? It is. That's the feeling of the entire story line. For example, too many male characters are motivated by anger: an orphanage bully, Connelly, Thomas, Wizard, and Jeffries come to mind. In some cases Sheridan lets us see the anger is really driven by hidden fear, but most times the anger seems unwarranted.
Lyla's insecurity is also contrived. Even though she is a top professional in a career demanding the utmost in personal discipline, she can neither make peace with nor separate from her aging, autocratic father. Finally, Rush expresses at most half a dozen contrived, stock emotions which are repeated throughout the film. It's impossible to tell if Sheridan's direction or Highmore's inexperience is to blame. Or maybe this is how real prodigies behave.
At best the story is a puppy-love type romantic drama with an implausible story line. Suspension of disbelief is necessary to stay seated until the all too predictable happy ending. My companion put it succinctly: she's seen better made-for-TV movies.
And I want to see it again? No, but I do want to hear it again.
Without question, the star of this show is the music. Written by Mark Mancina and supervised by Jeffrey Pollack, Julia Michaels, and Anatasia Brown, the score makes the picture enjoyable. Don't look at what's on screen, but rather listen to the eclectic mix of instruments and sounds weaved together in a sonic tapestry. That crap story line is only a supporting element providing fodder for Mancina to draw on as he mixes classical, folk, pop, percussive, and rock styles (to name a few) into a fulfilling concert.
Only as a vehicle for transporting music does the film make sense. August Rush is a contrived, formula story with the same elements repeated over and over. While in literature such a motif is devastating, repetition in the form of theme and variations makes for wonderful music.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Southpaw Entertainment Production, in association with CJ Entertainment: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams and William Sadler star in "August Rush." Directed by Kirsten Sheridan, screenplay by Nick Castle and James V. Hart, story by Paul Castro and Nick Castle. Produced by Richard Barton Lewis with executive producers Robert Greenhut, Ralph Kamp, Louise Goodsill, Miky Lee and Lionel Wigram. Photographic direction by John Mathieson, production design by Michael Shaw, editing by William Steinkamp, and costumes by Frank Fleming. Original score composed by Mark Mancina with music supervision by Jeffrey Pollack, Julia Michaels, and Anatasia Brown.