Lilting ‘August Rush’ is poetry in emotion

By Claudia Puig
USA TODAY, November 23, 2007

August Rush (* * * out of four) will not be for everyone, but it works if you surrender to its lilting and unabashedly sentimental tale of evocative music and visual poetry.

If you choose to focus on the plot’s many contrivances, the film falters. But thanks to some wonderfully appealing and emotional performances by Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Terrence Howard, this urban fairy tale/drama weaves a captivating spell.

Director Kirsten Sheridan clearly has been influenced by her filmmaker father, Jim, with whom she co-wrote his lovely 2003 film In America. This bears some resemblance to that New York-based fable, particularly in its impressionistic tribute to the city.

Highmore is an engaging young actor, and the tale of his quest for a family has echoes of Oliver! and Peter Pan. There’s an odd and off-putting element in which Robin Williams plays a musical Fagin (with a look that brings to mind U2’s Bono).

He is an opportunistic mentor who exploits musically talented lost or troubled children by giving them instruments and setting them up to play on street corners for spare change. A kind of musical pimp, he helps himself to a good portion of their earnings.

While Highmore’s poignant saga is playing out — he runs away from an orphanage, and a kindly social services worker, played by Howard, searches for him — the story moves back and forth in time, recounting a romance between Russell and Meyers and the burgeoning musical prowess of Highmore’s prodigy.

Russell is a successful classical cellist, spurred on by a driven father. Meyers is a rock ‘n’ roller in a band that is gaining some fame. They meet one night at a party, share a romantic evening and separate — due to circumstances, not lack of desire. A decade later, both have given up playing professionally and seem adrift.

We sense they will reconnect because they seem destined to be together. In the way of such romances as Sleepless in Seattle, it’s just a matter of time before their paths cross.

The unifying force among these three characters is music and their passion to create it. Early on, there is a particularly powerful scene in which Russell and her cello and Meyers and his guitar are juxtaposed, creating an intriguing sound, a kind of soaring classical-rock hybrid.

August Rush is a film that is all about the transformative emotional power of music. It’s wise to ignore the predictable plot turns and the lack of believability in this urban fantasy, and let yourself slip under the spell of its intensely passionate tribute to the world of melody and harmony.

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