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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

August Rush (review)

Lost in the Music

Female film directors are such rare creatures in Hollywood, and so it’s always a delight to find a new one with such talent and such promise as Kristen Sheridan displays in her tender, enchanting August Rush, an urban fable of family lost and gifts found… and refound. Sheridan may have had a bit of an unfair advantage when it comes to directing: Her father is Jim Sheridan, whose films such as My Left Foot and In America (for which Kristen shared an Oscar nomination with her father and sister, Naomi, for Best Original Screenplay) burst with a passionate humanism that celebrates individual potential and capability. Now it’s clear that Kristen has inherited some of that spirit, for this is a joyful movie — so joyful, in fact, that its soul and heart triumph over the many flaws of some of its separate parts.
Though it’s easy, perhaps, to dismiss or accept or forgive those flaws if you take August as it is intended: as a modern fairy tale. If you can suspend your disbelief and overlook the deep implausibility of the story it’s telling, it becomes all too easy to embrace it. Evan Taylor is an 11-year-old little boy lost, and yet supremely centered with it: Stuck in an orphanage where he is derided by the other boys as a “freak,” he refuses to relinquish his firmly held belief that his parents want him, that maybe they’re just lost and haven’t been able to find him. Though he has never touched a musical instrument, he lives and breathes music, hears it “in the air, in the light,” in everything all around him. He believes the music connects him to his absent parents, and that through the music, he will one day find them. And then he decides not to wait, but to set out to find them himself, an odyssey that draws him to New York City, and all the strange dark magic of that 21st-century Oz.

Among the several enthralling things about August is how Sheridan (whose first feature film, 2001’s Disco Pigs, was an independent European production that was not released in the United States, though copies of the out-of-print DVD are available) captures the symphony of the city that Evan hears in his head: the rhythm and the groove of rattling subway trains and honking taxi horns and surging mobs of pedestrians and even plastic bags whipped by a breeze. Her depiction of New York might be the loveliest I’ve ever seen on film, a visually and aurally melodic valentine to the hustle and bustle and clamor.

But none of that would have mattered if she hadn’t found the right young actor to play Evan, for the movie rests on that character’s slender and sensitive shoulders. This is one of the more demanding child roles in recent memory, one made even more challenging by circumstance — Sheridan cast Freddie Highmore (Arthur and the Invisibles, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) precisely for the very reason I first noticed him, too: because he was able to go head-to-head with Johnny Depp, and hold his own in the process, in that lovely scene on the park bench toward the end of Finding Neverland. But Highmore is English, and Evan is American… and yet the actor, 14 when the film was shot last year, pulls off not just the accent — astonishingly — but Evan as well, with all his off-kilter confidence and preadolescent artlessness and supreme joy in the music only he hears. Highmore is a wonder.

The rest of the cast hits that perfect middle ground between magic and groundedness, too. Keri Russell (Waitress, Mission: Impossible III) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Alexander, Vanity Fair) as Evan’s parents share their own interrupted love story that is like something out of Cinderella gone 21st century: they’re both musicians themselves, and after a single romantic night at the ball they lose track of more than each other; they lose their music, too. They find it again, of course, as they must also find the son they never knew they had (how Mom could not know she has a child is one of those nagging implausibilities, but go with it), which becomes a gentle yet dynamic ode to the power of love and of family. And that necessary bit of fairy-tale menace comes via Robin Williams (License to Wed, Night at the Museum) as a Fagin-like presence in Evan’s life, the spirit-guide who first recognizes Evan’s talent (and gives him the nom de musique “August Rush”) and, simultaneously, the threat who endangers the full expression of that talent.

Is it all ridiculously improbable? Sure it is. But so is Cinderella, and Oliver Twist, and all the fairy tales we love. They turn out pretty satisfying in the end anyway, and so this one does, too.

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MPAA: rated PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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  • B.H.

    I’m glad to find a reviewer who isn’t so caught up with their own dissatisfaction in the world that they can’t enjoy a truly good movie–one that is not filled with hatred, violence, sex, psychoses and all of those things that the ‘vaunted’ Academy will choose to award at their 5 hour party. I get so tired of listening to how this movie isn’t believable (well, duh, as they say); it isn’t meant to be. It actually reflects the good side of life–a place where miracles do happen, those heroic or amazing events that the news only gives a momentary spot in favor of moving on to murders and wars. This movie is about hope and music. Music presented in a way that only someone who truly appreciates and loves music can understand.
    I only have one contention to this review. It is stated that the reviewer cannot believe the mother doesn’t know she has a child. In the movie, the mother is hit by a car. When she awakes after surgery, her father tells her that the baby is gone. Her father forges her signature on the adoption papers, so she never sees the baby. She believes that the baby is dead. I think that’s rather believable, knowing some parents of children who are gifted with music and dance. Some of those people will do anything to further their children’s dream.

  • MaryAnn

    a place where miracles do happen, those heroic or amazing events that the news only gives a momentary spot in favor of moving on to murders and wars.

    Do you want to live in a world where “heroic” or “amazing” (by which I assume you mean “amazing” in a positive sense) events are so rare that they merit mention on the evening news? Cuz I don’t.

    I only have one contention to this review. It is stated that the reviewer cannot believe the mother doesn’t know she has a child. In the movie, the mother is hit by a car. When she awakes after surgery, her father tells her that the baby is gone. Her father forges her signature on the adoption papers, so she never sees the baby. She believes that the baby is dead. I think that’s rather believable, knowing some parents of children who are gifted with music and dance. Some of those people will do anything to further their children’s dream.

    I didn’t say I didn’t understand the explanation the movie offered (though I was trying not to spoil that explanation — thanks a lot for spoiling it for those who might not have wanted to know). I DO understand what the movie is saying: I just don’t think it’s plausible. I do not find it at all plausible that the father would be able to get away with his deception by the authorities.

  • B.H.

    Do you want to live in a world where “heroic” or “amazing” (by which I assume you mean “amazing” in a positive sense) events are so rare that they merit mention on the evening news? Cuz I don’t.

    I simply meant that it would be nice if the news focused more on positive events, since the main focus tends to be on all of the bad things that happen.

    I didn’t say I didn’t understand the explanation the movie offered (though I was trying not to spoil that explanation — thanks a lot for spoiling it for those who might not have wanted to know). I DO understand what the movie is saying: I just don’t think it’s plausible. I do not find it at all plausible that the father would be able to get away with his deception by the authorities.

    So sorry to have spoiled people’s opinions–although by reading any review they run that risk, so really it’s their choice to read. You’d be fascinated to know what people get away with in the child protective services realm. I know firsthand that documents are faked, lost, misplaced, and frankly just stuck in humongous piles all the time. True it isn’t really likely that he could easily get away with it (unless he was rich–oh wait, he was), but it isn’t impossible. I really don’t even know why I’m bothering to argue with you, since I started out complimenting your review, but that seems to be the way you wanted to go. Anyway, thanks at least for responding. Many reviewers won’t even to that much.

  • MaryAnn

    I really don’t even know why I’m bothering to argue with you, since I started out complimenting your review, but that seems to be the way you wanted to go.

    I didn’t realize we were arguing. :->

    Regardless of what other reviewers might do, I try not to spoil movies without alerting readers to the fact that there are spoilers ahead. That said, knowing the details of how August’s mother comes to think her son is dead does not greatly change the enjoyment of the movie, but it is a matter of some small suspense — and I always feels it’s better to know as little about a movie’s plot as possible when you go into it.

  • I have to say there’s something highly irritating about the trailer – I don’t know what, but it makes me scowl every time it comes on. But, y’know, you’ve sold me. I really liked Highmore in Charlie/Willy Wonka, an otherwise…odd?…movie. Now I’ll probably wait ’til it comes out on dvd, though.

  • Julianne

    If any movie was “believable” it would just
    be a boring day in any life kind of
    movie and who wants that? It’s a fairy
    tale kind of movie for sure, but it’s
    captivating both with it’s music and it’s
    cast. We totally loved this movie!
    Refreshing and totally entertaining.
    The cast was PERFECT. Kudos for the
    PG rating too. I am so sick of the crap
    at most movies these days that this
    one was like a breath of fresh air.
    I would see it again no problem.

  • MaryAnn

    Kudos for the PG rating too. I am so sick of the crap at most movies these days

    Right. Because anything intended strictly for adults must be crap…

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