Review: Orphan has a song in his heart in 'August Rush'
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
August Rush: Drama. With Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Directed by Kirsten Sheridan. (PG. 113 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)
Music is everywhere, "in the wind, in the air, in the light," insists 11-year-old Evan (Freddie Highmore). "All you have to do is listen."
That is just one of the convictions that the child holds in the inane musical melodrama "August Rush." The other is that while he is an orphan who has spent his entire life in a group home, somewhere his parents are out there just waiting to be reunited with him. The kid has faith, and that leads him to run away to Manhattan to fulfill his twin destinies.
Director Kirsten Sheridan shared an Oscar screenplay nomination in 2003 with her father, Jim Sheridan, and sister, Naomi Sheridan, for another New York fable, "In America." This time she had no hand in the screenplay, which is credited to Nick Castle and James V. Hart with Castle and Paul Castro responsible for the story.
Perhaps Sheridan could not resist what the two tales have in common: children in the big city transcending mean circumstances, and troubled adults seeking to put their lives back together.
But whereas "In America" had a few moments of pure contrivance, the treacly, fatuous "August Rush" is pitched at the level of a daytime soap opera.
The entire story is ridiculous, beginning with the premise that no one would have adopted this healthy, beautiful baby. Coincidences pile on, behavior and motivations defy logic, and the characters are so thinly drawn that most of the cast is at a loss. Only the cherubic 15-year-old Highmore - who previously starred as Charlie in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and as J.M. Barrie's muse in "Finding Neverland" - and Robin Williams, cast as a Fagin-like character who dresses like a fifth-rate Bono impersonator, evince any spark.
As the movie moves back and forth in time, it seems that Evan was right. He does have parents, Lila (a glassy-eyed Keri Russell, who was much more of a live wire earlier this year in "Waitress"), a cellist, and Louis (a pouty Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an Irish rock singer and guitarist living the American dream in New York City. It is love at first sight when these two meet on a Greenwich Village rooftop overlooking Washington Square Park, and they have only one night together before fate cruelly separates them, but it is enough to produce Evan.
Eleven years later, Lila is a Chicago music teacher missing her lover and the child who she thinks is dead. Louis, who responded to his heartbreak by quitting the music business, is now a wealthy, if unhappy, businessman in San Francisco. (One can imagine him writing a best-seller, "Mope and Grow Rich.")
Both pull up stakes and head back to Manhattan. Meanwhile, Evan is spitting distance from where he was conceived. Wandering into Washington Square Park, he meets Arthur (Leon G. Thomas III), a busker about his own age, who brings him back to the squat he shares with a contingent of fellow tween musicians and Wizard (Williams), their manager.
As much as Evan prattles on about music, he has never actually had the opportunity to play it. But the first time he gets his hands on a guitar, he handles it with the confidence of Jimi Hendrix. Seeing dollar signs, Wizard christens Evan "August Rush," stealing the moniker from the side of a truck and not considering that it sounds like a wine cooler or a fraternity mixer.
Evan keeps the alias even as he journeys beyond Wizard to where his genius can finally find a real audience - not that he cares so much about that. He just figures that the spotlight will help his parents find him.
The one grand gesture that might have rescued the movie at least partly, had it been well executed, is to take Evan at his word: He hears the music in everything and that inspires him ("like Mozart," exclaims one chum) to write a symphony inspired by what he hears on the streets. But even this is undone by Mark Mancina's pedestrian score.
Further muddying the aural landscape is the overuse of Van Morrison's "Moondance," Lila and Louis' song, which even works its way into Evan's symphony (the genius as budding plagiarist). It is a wonderful tune, but by the seemingly 6,000th time it appears on the soundtrack, it begins to sound as hackneyed as "August Rush" itself, leaving one with the fervent wish to make it, and the movie, just please stop.
-- Advisory: Mild violence and language.
This article appeared on page E - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle