More fable than film, there is no earthly reason why August Rush should work. But it does.
August Rush is about a love triangle. 12 years ago, on a rooftop overlooking New York City’s Washington Square Park, Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a charismatic young Irish guitarist and Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), a sheltered cellist, shared a magical evening beneath a full moon. But their romance was torn apart before it had a chance to begin, leaving, in its wake, two destitute young people who gave up on their music, and an orphan child, the only hint of their enchanted union, who Lyla is led to believe died stillborn in a car accident.
Now, years later, the child they don’t even know exists is performing on the streets of Manhattan, cared for by the mysterious Wizard (Robin Williams) who dubs the boy August Rush (Freddie Highmore). A musical prodigy who can hear music in the random, dissonant sounds of everyday life, August is convinced that he can use his remarkable musical talent to reunite him with the parents he has never known.
Preposterous from beginning to end, in order for August Rush to work, you have to accept it for what it is — a fairytale wrapped in contemporary clothing. Do not try to apply the laws of logic and realism to this film or you will only come away frustrated. August Rush is an enchanted fable, and only by accepting it on those terms will it be successful.
Director Kristen Sheriden (the daughter of Jim Sheriden, director of In America, In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot) knows the lofty limitations of her story and instead of hesitating for even a moment, runs full speed ahead with her outrageous concept. As much a music video as a movie, Sheriden understands that music is pure, undistilled emotion and will win over her audience despite whatever reservations they might bring to the theater.
Meyers, who has been enjoying well-deserved success of late, is wonderful as Louis. Captivating Russell, who delighted audiences in this summer’s Waitress continues to charm. Terrence Howard, always compelling, plays a kindhearted child services officer trying to keep August and other lost boys like him, safe. And Highmore, best known for his role as the melancholy brother in Finding Neverland, continues to be the cutest kid working in film. If August Rush fails at all, it is in the choice to cast Robin Williams as the half Fagan/half Bono character of Wizard. Whenever Williams appears on screen, the film’s gears seize up. A walking parody, Williams is a liability for the film, not an asset.
Reminiscent of 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus, August Rush is unapologetically supercharged with hope and optimism. The film doesn’t have a drop of cynicism in it. No, fairy tales do not reflect reality. But then, that is exactly why we so desperately need them.