Wednesday, November 21, 2007

August Rush

“I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales.”

There are two stories here. The first involves a young orphan (Freddie Highmore) with untapped musical talent who leaves the orphanage to “follow the music” and find his parents. His journey leads to new friends (Leon G. Thomas III, Jamia Simone Nash), a stint as a street musician under the control of the Fagin-esque Wizard (Robin Williams, in a cowboy hat), and a trip to Juliard where his talent blossoms.

The second story (shown mostly in flashbacks) involves cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and rock band member Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Their chance meeting a decade before was dashed by Lyla’s father (William Sadler) separating them for years. Lyla’s unexpected pregnancy puts her career at risk and her father snatches up a chance accident to make her believe her son is dead. Jumping back to the present Lyla learns the truth and with the help of a social worker (Terrence Howard) begins to search for the son she’s never met. At the same time across the country Louis facing his own midlife crisis searches out the woman who he still loves.

Let’s start with the problems of the film since they are neither small nor easily overcome. First, the entire Oliver Twist storyline is as dumb as it sounds and is only saved by the small moments it allows our young prodigy to further his music. Williams is ridiculous in what looks like a sort of half-assed Bono meet Fagin impression. Also troubling is the film’s constant and incessant fallback on coincidence that keeps allowing the storyline, which otherwise would stall multiple times, to make giant leaps forward despite all logic to the contrary. How illogical is it? Here’s an example: Lyla’s father signs away her child when she gives birth after a traffic accident. No one questions a comatose woman signing away a baby she never sees and no nurse or doctor ever mentions the child to congratulate her on her son or to discuss her decision to give away the child. Yeah, there’s stretching credibility and there’s fantasy. Add to this the controlling and manipulative nature of the story and you’ve got a film which should be a complete disaster. And yet…

The use of music in everyday life and how music is portrayed as something that gives life meaning and can connect people is incredibly well done. The different types music used in the film from simple to complex, from classical to gospel to rock, all add a unique flavor and sound to the story. It’s when the worlds of Lyla and Louis are filled with music that they are truly alive and find each other. And it’s when they rediscover a piece of themselves and reinvest in their music that their worlds begin to make sense again. Just as the newly anoited August Rush plays in hope of making his parents hear him, they both, separately, play to each other, to their love, and to a child they have never met.

The cast, aside from Williams who does his crazy act doing the best he can with the least interesting character in the film, are terrific. Highmore is the heart and soul of the film. And the casting of Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as tortured lovers is inspired. Both actors possess an ability to convey a hopeful melancholy which plays perfectly on film. These three actors allow us to dismiss some of the clumsiness of the script and invest some time and emotion in the characters.

Even with its many problems the film is, somehow, a joy. It’s sweet, and when it’s not getting in its own way, quite moving. Your brain may reject much of August Rush, but I think your heart will have a grand time.

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