As long as you take everything with a swig of whimsy, “August Rush” is a delightful and inspirational story. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it is a good escapist entertainment, reminding us of the magic in life and music.
On a moonlit rooftop in New York, Louis, a charismatic Irish musician (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and Lyla, a prominent young cellist (Keri Russell), fall in love to a street musician’s harmonica. After the most romantic night of their lives, through certain misunderstandings and circumstances, they are forced to part ways, losing all contact.
Years later, Louis has given up on his band and becomes a corporate business man, and Lyla becomes a music teacher who doesn’t play music, believing their unborn son was lost in a car accident.
Years later we find this child has grown into a musical prodigy, August, played by Freddie Highmore, and living in a boys’ orphanage outside of New York. His musical gift allows him to be in tune with the sounds of life all around him, from the wind through the meadows to the city sounds of hustle and bustle. Through all these sounds he believes he can hear his birth parents and that they want to find him.
This is where the movie asks you to seriously suspend your disbelief. August makes his way to New York City, and in a bit of “Oliver Twist” whimsy, August ends up in a ring of orphan thieves organized and led by a man called Wizard (Robin Williams).
Under the protection and tutelage of the weird but musical Wizard, the boy’s talent is revealed and developed. Wizard knows the boy is special and exploits the boy’s musical genius. August isn’t really concerned with any of it; he just knows that if he can keep playing long enough and loud enough he will somehow find his parents.
Freddie Highmore wonderfully captures August’s naivety and sense of wonder for the world outside the orphanage, and the unbridled passion in discovering a whole new world of music. Although it’s a bit obvious that those are not young Highmore’s hands in some of the performance scenes (particularly the guitar scenes), he still convincingly plays a boy enthralled with sharing his music.
It’s that joy and charm that wins us over. When Highmore’s smiling and performing, you’ll be smiling with him. And if you’ve seen any of Highmore’s previous films, you might have noticed he’s also a great cryer. He’s able to play his dramatic scenes perfectly, never going overboard, and even causing a tear or two in your eyes.
There are few plot points in the story that are just a tad too fanciful even for a fairy tale, such as August’s sudden compulsion to scribe a symphony only moments after learning a basic music note scale or that Wizard is a strange street musician living with a group of children from the street. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter — it’s the magic of the movies. Isn’t that one of the chief reasons why we keep going to the movies? To watch the impossible become possible? To see the unbelievable?
Not every movie can or should be a political message, profound sermon, or historical retrospective; sometimes the best movies are the ones that don’t try too hard. These movies, like “August Rush”, are the ones that make you leave the theatre with a melody on your mind and a smile on your face.