Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

07/27/2009 (2:57 pm)

August Rush


Here’s my review of a 2007 film that I watched a couple of nights ago, called August Rush:

The story is a fairy tale, really. A pair of musicians couple and produce a child, then fate separates them. After the mother is injured in an accident, her father deceives her into thinking the child is dead, and puts him up for adoption. The orphan, called Evan (later renamed August Rush), is a musical prodigy, and knows by faith that his music will call his family back together. He escapes the orphanage, lives on the streets in New York City, and follows the music wherever it leads him. The parents wander, search, find themselves, and magically end up at their son’s concert in Central Park.

The story has strong elements of Oliver Twist, with Robin Williams as a musically-minded Fagin. Sadly, though, the first half of the film plays more like a self-important, overly serious version of the 2001 romantic comedy, Seredipity, which wasn’t really good enough to copy. It’s in the second half, when Evan/August picks up a guitar and starts tapping and hammering, that the film takes off. The music soars. It sings. It brings tears to your eyes. The composer, Mark Mancina (who did the music for The Lion King), began by writing August’s Rhapsody, the piece that gets played at the end of the film in a manner that recalls Mr. Holland’s Opus, then merged ordinary street noise with themes from the rhapsody and weaved them into the score throughout the film. We hear the themes more clearly as August’s talent begins to stand out, first in reveries, then in guitar work (the percussive sounds of Kaki King and Heitor Pereira), then in a pipe organ solo in an old church, and eventually when he performs the rhapsody itself with the New York Philharmonic. We’re treated to lots of additional music along the way, from the parents (she plays classical cello, he writes soulful guitar ballads) and August’s acquaintances. All of it works (except Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” which did not fit and should have been cut) to hammer home the movie’s theme: music is everywhere, you just have to listen.

The weakness of the film lies in the direction of Kirsten Sheridan and the script from writers Nick Castle and James Hart. None of these have produced notable work before, and their mediocrity shows. They struggle mightily to achieve profundity, and sacrifice plausibility and coherence in the process. No, I’m not complaining that the Fate theme is too magical; but even a fairy tale needs its characters to make coherent choices, and needs to resolve the conflicts it produces. This film ignores both, frequently, and that makes it downright cheesy at times. If they’d stuck to making it coherent, it would have been profound on its own; just from the story and the sound track, the movie occasionally touches greatness.

Solid, professional performances were turned in by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Bend It Like Beckham), Keri Russell (Waitress), and Robin Williams (what isn’t he in?) Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), the boy playing August, did well enough and had exactly the right look. And keep your eye on Jamia Nash, the tiny black girl who sings; where on earth did that little thing get those pipes?

One more good touch, satisfying a pet peeve of mine: real musicians coached the actors, so they’re actually fingering the notes you’re hearing most of the time. What a relief.

Despite its flaws, if you love music and you’re not a cynic, this film will inspire you. Check your cynicism at the door, and go enjoy the music.

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1 Comment »

July 28, 2009 @ 10:39 am #

I really liked that movie. Mostly for the music, especially the percussive guitar (being a guitar player myself).

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