Those who are willing to open their hearts to this urban fairy tale will find its pleasures, as long as they they don’t think about it too hard.
It is a music-saturated story of a young orphan who believes he can create music so powerful that it will bring his parents to him. Evan (Freddie Highmore) has no access to instruments or musical training in the isolated orphanage he has lived in since he was a baby. But he hears music everywhere, and it is such a powerful force in his life that he is certain it connects him to his missing family.
Evan’s parents are Lyla (Keri Russell), a gifted cellist, and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) a promising Irish rock singer. They share one magical night and then are separated by Lyla’s overbearing father, who gives her baby up for adoption and tells her he is dead. She does not find out he is still alive until he has left the orphanage. Louis, who does not know where Lyla is or that she had a baby, has some job in San Francisco where he wears a suit.
Evan runs away to New York, where the music and rhythm of the streets are like a giant symphony all around him, every sound a part of the orchestra. He meets up with a Fagin-like character named Wizard (Robin Williams) who lives with a fleet of busking boys in an abandoned theater. He sends them out to play for money, which they give him in return for his protection from the streets and from child services, both apparently equally treacherous. Wizard renames Evan after a sign he sees for a beach resort: August Rush. Wizard gives him a guitar. But soon the now-August is on the run again, now to a church, where a kind minister (Mykelti Williamson) brings him to Julliard, where he deemed a musical genius and studies composition with college students. His piece is selected for a concert in the park, where all of the various themes — musical and otherwise — come together.
It never quite captures the mythic tone it aims for, but it is held together by Russell, who is both dewy and resolute, Terrance Howard as a compassionate social worker, and the music, which saturates the film with seamlessly integrated sound, meshing classical, rock, folk, and street music together into one glorious swirl.
Parents should know that this “Oliver Twist”-style story of a homeless orphan has scenes with threats of abuse, bullies, tense confrontations, peril, brief drug reference, drinking and drunkenness, a mild sexual situation with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and brief strong language.
Family discussion: Can you hear music in what is going on around you? This movie has many different kinds of music. Which ones do you like the best and why?
If you like this, try: Vitus, a Swedish movie about a child musical prodigy and the Oscar-winning musical Oliver!. Families will also enjoy The Boy Who Could Fly, another touching fantasy by the same screenwriter. And listen to the music of Kaki King, whose unusual guitar-playing style is featured in the film.