August Rush

Movie Information

The Story: An orphan boy tries to find his parents through the connective power of music. The Lowdown: A likable fairy tale that can't get its musical -- or dramatic -- act together to really work.
Score:

Genre: Musical Drama
Director: Kirsten Sheridan
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams
Rated: PG

Kirsten Sheridan’s August Rush is a lot of things, but mostly it’s an honorable failure—maybe even a noble one. Certainly, it’s an ambitious one. But it is a failure. Oh, there are good aspects to the film—even some very fine moments—and there are intimations of the great film it might have been. To have been a great film, however, it would have taken a genius of a filmmaker—something that Kirsten Sheridan just isn’t. 

The idea of illustrating the connective power of music isn’t especially new. As far as movies are concerned, it at least dates back to 1932 and Rouben Mamoulian’s Maurice Chevalier-Jeanette MacDonald musical Love Me Tonight. Based on a fairy tale about a scarf that finds its way to a prince, who makes the somewhat astounding leap that he will marry whomever the scarf belonged to, Mamoulian changed the connecting device from the scarf to a song (Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t It Romantic?”). Considering the fact that Sheridan has a scene where the rhythms of New York come together to form the kernel of a symphonic vision in her hero’s head and Mamoulian’s film opens with the building rhythms of the city of Paris awakening, it’s pretty darn unlikely that Sheridan was unaware of the original.

That Sheridan and screenwriters Nick Castle, James V. Hart and Paul Castro chose to align this concept with a very melodramatic variant on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist needn’t have been the kiss of death, but it set up its own set of problems. These start with the improbable plot device of having the overprotective father (William Sadler) of Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) forging his daughter’s signature on an adoption release and telling her that the baby is dead. They’re compounded by a screenplay that can’t decide exactly what the relationship is between the movie’s Oliver Twist character, August Rush (Freddie Highmore), and its Artful Dodger character, Arthur (Leon G. Thomas III), and that has no clear vision at all about whether the Fagin character, Maxwell “Wizard” Wallace (Robin Williams), is a bad guy, a good-bad guy or simply misdirected.

The premise that the great love between Lyla and a struggling Irish rocker, Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), could survive the passage of 11 years is a bit of a stretch—especially since it’s based strictly on one night of PG-rated passion resulting in the conception of August. It might have worked if there was even a hint of chemistry between Russell and Rhys Meyers, but there isn’t. The real killer, however, lies in the double-barreled disaster of Rhys Meyers’ lack of charisma and the quality of his songs. Mr. Rhys Meyers has two basic expressions: dour and dour with dyspepsia. The dismal songs he performs perfectly match his persona, but that’s not in anybody’s best interest. Even granting that the composition by musical prodigy August—the work that will allow him to find his parents—is merely a serviceable work, it at least passes muster in context, which the rock songs do not.

Individual sequences—usually involving August’s relation to music—are very fine, but they can’t hold the movie together. The specter of what the movie might have been comes to the forefront when Sheridan briefly looks like she’s going to interconnect the rock music, August’s composition and Lyla performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Unfortunately, Sheridan must have realized she couldn’t pull it off, and stops short of trying what could have been an amazing fusion of music, image and theme. Too bad, because such a scene could have saved the film from being the likable but unpersuasive fairy tale it is. Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

4 thoughts on “August Rush

  1. Dave Hammond

    Caught by surprise on a plane to China, August Rush echoed deeply with a life long journey to find and stay faithful to my narrative. 27 years working with thousands of people who have lost their way tells me that all of us could take a little wisdom from August, “the music is always around us, we just need to learn to listen”. Sure it’s a bit shmultsy and disjointed and fairytaleish but where would we be without fairy-tales pointing to a deeper truth for all who are ready to listen.

  2. Ken Hanke

    As I said, I think the film is at least a worthy failure, but apart from that one statement about “the music being all around,” which is more just a statement than something really evidenced in the text of the film itself, I’m not sure I understand what deeper truth the movie’s illustrating.

  3. chadles McAllister

    Just found your reviews on rottentomatoes.com, and I thought you nailed it!

    August Rush made me squirm in my seat because I wanted to groan so bad. Jonathan Rhys Meyers was so boring, it took a lot of imagination to believe he was a brilliant rocker. Even if you are determined to believe in the story, you will not make it to the end without rolling your eyes. It was oliver twist with a second helping of sap.

    And I agree: the connective power of music is a great theme but, it stopped seeming like magic and more like an endless string of coincidences.

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