November 26, 2007

Movie Review: August Rush

August Rush is dripping with sentimentality. It is so thick with sentiment that it will likely make some in the audience sick from the heavy sweetness. Generally, sentiment that is layered this high will turn me off to the film. There is just something about overly sentimental films that feels manipulative and robs them of any real emotion as the reality is smothered by the deep blanket of sentiment. I suspected that high sentiment would be the case here, but the trailer won me over by the strength of the cast and the use of music. I sat in the theater hoping for the best and expecting the worst. Misplaced sentiment spells doom for any production. However, the further in that we got, the more involved I became. I was won over by the story and how it seemed to be operating on a whole other level, a level where sentiment is not a curse but a blessing. August Rush is a special film, it dug itself into my mind and my heart and I became completely invested in the lives of the characters. It is not perfect, but there is definitely something about this film that makes the entirety of its experience a journey well worth taking.

The film opens with tragedy, a sorrow so deep that there is no place to go but up. Despite the sadness that fills the opening, we know where this is going to go. This type of story is not so much about the destination as it is about the journey. We know that everyone is going to come together in the end. It is the individual journeys and experiences that matter most, and August Rush delivers.

Let's give a rough outline of the story. It is 2007; Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) is a young boy living in an orphanage in upstate New York. He is a special child, he hears all the sound around him and can hear the music in nature. Everything around him adds to the cacophony of sound, a natural orchestra. All he knows of his parents is that they are musicians, this fact convinces him that he can hear his parents in the sound around him and if he can learn to play the notes they will hear him too and come for him. This firmly held belief keeps him at the orphanage, for fear that if he is adopted his real family will not be able to find him. Evan's story is one of sadness with a backing of hope.

In between the bits of his story we learn of his parents brief romance through flashback.

It is 1995, Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) is in New York with her father (William Sadler) so that Lyla may perform with the New York Philharmonic. You see, she is a cello prodigy with a bright future as a musical performer. However, despite he obvious talent, there is a bit of sadness to her. Later that night she goes to a party to celebrate with her friends, but she does not want to be in a crowd and goes up to the roof where she meets Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). It is a meeting that will change the two of them forever.

Louis is the lead singer and guitarist for The Connelly Brothers (the other brother is Marshall, played by Moonlight's Alex O'Loughlin). They are in town to perform a concert at Irving Plaza where they have a shot at hitting it big. Louis, however, does not seem to be seeking fame, rather he is searching for something else. He may just have found what he was looking for in his chance rooftop meeting with Lyla.

The morning after their meeting, Lyla is forced off by her father to return home and work on her budding career. Despite her protests, she is not able to return to meet Louis again. Louis is devastated by losing her, it hurts him so badly that he leaves the band in order to pursue a more normal life, unable to perform with the same level of emotion that had come naturally prior.

The story picks back up with Evan in the present as he decides to leave the orphanage and search for his parents. It is his journey into the unknown that holds the film together and steps into a loose adaptation of the Oliver Twist story along the way.

I hesitate to give any details about Evan's journey, so I will avoid specifics. Suffice to say his journey is epic in scope as he finds himself lost in New York, then under the care of street performer Maxwell Wallace (Robin Williams in Bono trappings), better known as Wizard to the gaggle of homeless and runaway children he has befriended. It is here where his musical lessons begin and his natural ability to perform makes its first appearance. From there his travels carry him all the way to Julliard where he writes his masterpiece.

While Evan's journey is the glue, it is the renewed journeys of Lyla and Louis that add much flavor to the proceedings. Lyla begins her search for her long lost son, while Louis reunites with his brother, a meeting that opens the floodgates to his repressed memories of Lyla. Their journeys are connected and are fated to culminate with their reunion with their son.

August Rush does not take place in the real world, it is a fairy tale come to life. It is an alternate reality where happily ever after does exist. This film operates on a different plan of existence where the connections between people are more than what you say to each other, but how you feel. In the case of this story it is the emotions brought about through music that connects this scattered family. What begins with sorrow and tragedy is brought together through the strength of music.

The performances are all strong, in particular, the heartfelt work from Freddie Highmore. Sure, he is very similar to Freddie from his other films, but he brings a certain earnestness to the role. In short, he is the emotional center around which Lyla and Louis revolve.

If I have any complaint about the film, it would have to be with Robin William's Wizard character. There is something about him that seems off and some of the things that happen with him completely shift the tone of the film. I do not feel that we get enough of his story to truly warrant what happens.

Still, I find it very hard to speak ill of this movie. It is a live action fairy tale, a journey to hopes end where all will be good. It even ends on a beautiful note, and not the ending that I had been expecting. To top the whole thing off, there is some excellent music performed throughout.

Bottomline. See this movie. It is an uplifting story of hope and it works on a level that is much more than mere plot. The connection between the characters transcends the real world and works on a wavelength that only these three characters can sense. This is a very special film.

Highly Recommended.


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