Going in to August Rush, you've got to be more than willing to accept fairy tale magic; you've got to be looking to embrace it, with all of its whimsy and overzealous sense of wonder. That way, the movie can be sweet (if a bit ponderously so) as opposed to so precious you feel the need to punt it through a window. It's a fine line, and August Rush is balancing it the whole way through.Freddie Highmore
plays the title character, a little boy in a Dickensian version of the real world: He has grown up in a group home for boys in upstate New York (do they even have those anymore?), where he hears music in the world, from the corn fields to the moonlight. He sets out one day, believing that if he follows the music, it will lead to his parents; where it actually leads is New York City, where the noise of the city turns into the rhythmic beginnings of a Stomp number. There, he hooks up with a band of street urchins/musicians straight out of Oliver Twist, run by the unstable and off-putting Wizard (Robin Williams
as a creepy redhead). When August discovers things like guitars and sheet music that allow him to produce the music he hears, he becomes a prodigy, and a sensation. Article continues below
And of course, because August Rush is all about the magic of fate and coincidence, this little boy's love of music comes from some sort of machinations of the gods: His mother Lyla (Keri Russell
) is a star concert cellist; his father Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers
) is the guitarist and singer of a rock band. The two meet by coincidence on a rooftop and share one perfect night of moonlight and music, and are separated after. As August is looking for them, they are looking for one another and him. It's a small world, really, that separates August from his parents, but despite the number of coincidences and close calls that have parents and child nearly meeting, it takes them a very, very long time to actually get there.
If you find a story so heavy on the charm appealing, though, then August Rush delivers. Highmore is a spectacularly endearing little boy, and he plays the wise-beyond-his-years waif to perfection. Besides that, the film is cast almost entirely with likable and recognizable stars; in addition to Russell, Meyers, and Williams, Terrence Howard plays a sympathetic employee of child protective services, and even the tiny supporting parts are filled by actors from TV shows like Ugly Betty and Moonlight. If nothing else, August Rush is pleasant, so long as you don't go looking for realism or practicality.
Director Kirsten Sheridan
is too fond of close-up camera shots and long, silent takes to make a movie that moves at a rapid clip, however. And while it is impressive that all three stars are actually performing some of their onscreen music, for a movie that is all about a dazzling musical prodigy, the actual music is good, but not astounding. While it is totally in character for a fairy tale to feature people who feel an instant and inexplicable connection to one another, August Rush relies on the device more than is strictly necessary, and unfortunately is content to have it stand in for actual character development.
The movie is every bit as super sweet and precious as it sounds; it's also rather slow, and prone to long sequences of nothing but light playing off shiny objects and cacophonies of rhythmic sound. It also places its entire plot on the belief that a mother can instantly recognize a son she's never seen, that fate wields an actively guiding hand, and that music can transcend all other forms of communication in ways that we inherently understand, if we merely listen. Even if it sounds like so much touchy-feely nonsense, August Rush manages it with just enough sincerity and embracing of magic that it manages to stay just this side of saccharine, most of the time.