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Dustin Putman

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August Rush  (2007)
2 Stars
Directed by Kirsten Sheridan
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Leon G. Thomas III, Jamia Simone Nash, William Sadler, Mykelti Williamson, Alex McLoughlin, Aaron Staton, Marian Seldes, Jamie O'Keefe, Emelie Jeffries, Becki Newton.
2007 – 114 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some thematic elements, mild violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 18, 2007.
A study in mystical serendiptitiousness, "August Rush" falls someplace in between fanciful fable and exceedingly silly sugar rush. As directed by Kirsten Sheridan, the film is in continuous motion, cutting from one scene—and plot point—to the next whether the previous one has been satisfactorily developed or not. Sheridan trusts that the viewer will go along for the ride, but her ceaseless, rhythmic pacing, no doubt evocative of the characters' love for music and performing, keeps the story from ever getting a chance to breathe. Don't let the 114-minute running time fool you; "August Rush" plays like a scattershot CliffsNotes version of a motion picture, all on-the-surface synopsis and neglecting any deeper analysis.

Borrowing heavily from "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens, the film tells of a downtrodden 11-year-old orphan, Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore), who feels he has a communicative bond with his parents, whoever they may be, through the sounds and music around him. On a quest to find then, he runs away from his unhappy living quarters at the Walden Home for Boys and lands himself in New York City. Taken in by young street performer Arthur (Leon G. Thomas III) to his communal dwelling in an abandoned, run-down theater, it is here that Evan meets an older man known as Wizard (Robin Williams), a stern, not particularly fit makeshift parent who lords over the money that the kids make. He sees a kind of talent in Evan's self-taught guitar skills that he has never heard before, and soon Evan's original motive for coming to the city is sidetracked as he is branded a new name—August Rush—and starts working under the heavy hands of Wizard.

Meanwhile, Evan's long-lost parents, estranged themselves—former highly-lauded cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), now a Chicago school teacher who was led to believe she lost her baby during childbirth, and former rocker Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), now a buttoned-down businessman in San Francisco who had no idea Lyla was ever pregnant—both find themselves being drawn to their old home in the Big Apple. As Lyla, only recently learning from her sick dad (William Sadler) that her child survived after all, seeks the help of social worker Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard), Evan (as August Rush) finds himself being accepted into Julliard and scheduled to conduct his own symphony at an upcoming event in Central Park—an event Lyla is also set to play at and Louis might just be drawn to hear.

Written by James V. Hart (2005's "Sahara") and Nick Castle (interestingly, he played The Shape in 1978's original "Halloween"), "August Rush" is not without forward-motion. In fact, nearly every scene seems to take the three fateful distant family members—Evan, Lyla and Louis—on a different journey. These minor but noticeable leaps in the timeline, though, give the picture an episodic feel that strains plausibility as it forgets to fill in the gaps. One minute Evan is a penniless streetside guitar player, then he is sleeping in a church under the cot of little choir girl Hope (Jamia Simone Nash) without so much as a raised eye from anyone, then he is not only going to Julliard, but the star student among adult musicians and about to premiere his very first symphony at a Central Park gala.

The same things occur in the subplots with Lyla, who goes from a Chicago music teacher to someone who abandons her father on his deathbed, moves back to Manhattan, gets an apartment, and is accepted back to perform a cello solo at the same event as Evan, and Louis, who travels from San Francisco to Chicago to mistakenly be told Lyla is on her honeymoon, and then to New York, where he reclaims his passion for music and starts working the club and bar circuit. He also comes into contact with Evan in a park, and they riff a nice guitar duet together with neither realizing who the other is, but never mind. The point is that the number of amazing coincidences and the amount of plot turns required to pull this far-fetched, real-world modern fairy tale off could give 2001's more magical "Serendipity" a run for its money.

It's hard to dislike Freddie Highmore (2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), even if he seems to play the exact same role—that of a plucky, well-mannered, down-on-his-luck lad destined for a happy ending—ad nausea. Highmore could benefit from branching out, especially if the 15-year-old wishes to have a career as a grown-up actor, but until then he is just right as Evan/August, the kind of good-hearted boy you want to see rise above adversity. As parents Lyla and Louis, Keri Russell (2007's "Waitress") and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (2005's "Match Point") fit the bill, but play second-fiddle to Highmore. The crucial sequence set twelve years ago where they meet for the first and only time lacks the overwhelming feeling that these two people are star-crossed lovers meant to be together, which dampens the inevitable moment where they do come face to face again. As Wizard, funnyman Robin Williams (2007's "License to Wed") is in full-on serious mode—is it just me or does he usually do better in dramatic parts?—and fully sells the darkness behind Wizard's thinly amicable facade. Finally, Terrence Howard (2007's "The Brave One") is mishandled as the sympathetic Richard Jeffries, a superfluous character who could have almost been deleted from the script without any bearing on the story.

"August Rush" is, first and foremost, a movie that wants the viewer to experience an emotional response rather than an intellectual one. Director Kirsten Sheridan hopefully recognizes this because, taken as reality, the film is ridiculous and more than a little pat in the way that it softens the rough edges and arrives at a ribbon-tied conclusion that could never happen the way that it does. Unfortunately, as an entertainment where your suspension of disbelief is left at the door, "August Rush" is diverting but uninvolving. The string-laden music score by Mark Mancina and accompanying soundtrack are gorgeous to behold, but it only serves as window-dressing to a film that is slight, uneven, and not very memorable. Just as the viewer's heart is intended to soar, mine was left lukewarm and wishing that it cared more.
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman