"August Rush" is a cinematic ode to music as the language of love that is unfortunately marred by some sour notes.
August, captivatingly played by Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), is an orphan who comforts himself with the music he hears in everyday sounds. He fantasizes about finding his parents, who he believes he can hear, and find, if he listens hard enough.
His parents are guitarist Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell); they met and fell in love but were torn apart the next morning, never to meet again. Lyla, pregnant with Louis' child, is struck by a car and is led by her controlling father to believe her love child has died. Louis moves to San Francisco and Lyla to Chicago. Both are too heartbroken to perform again.
August flees to New York City and is taken in by Wizard (Robin Williams), a homeless Svengali who pimps out musically talented kids for the money they bring him. When he discovers that August is a prodigy, Wizard sees him as a big-time meal ticket.
Meanwhile, Lyla learns her child is alive and returns to New York to find him. At the same time, Louis resumes performing and heads east to find the love of his life.
Trauma and missed meetings transpire, until the three are united, by a crescendo of August's magical music, one glittery night in Central Park. Happily ever after.
There is a love story here, but it is not the one the audience is set up to think it is. Rather, it is the story of August's love of music and the power his passion has to enrich lives. This lyrical story is told with imagination and grace. By suffusing the film with the rhythms and notes August hears in his daily life -- the staccato vibrations of a subway train, the percussion of a plastic milk jug being blown over concrete -- the filmmakers give the nonmusical members of the audience a sense of what it is like to be a musician.
The love story that sets the tale in motion, however, is as rickety and grating as the average "American Idol" audition. In this, writer Nick Castle is tone deaf; the fairy-tale element he tried to create in this half of the plot is contrived and lacks the magic of the other half. Like his screenplay for "Hook," the story has an undercurrent of meanness to it.
Russell ("Waitress") and Rhys Meyers ("Mission Impossible III") do their best to make the story of their one-nighter into something more elevated. I want to believe that love-at-first-sight exists as much as the next girl, but this part of the story defies even the most generous suspension of disbelief.
There is something offensive about the situation, as well. I'm no prude, but I cringed when I had to explain to my 10-year-old companion (it is rated PG) that the baby came from those six hours on a metal glider with plastic seat cushions.
The movie also handles time sloppily. It's one thing to get the audience to believe that August can get himself out of a subway tunnel on 71st Street and into a tux and in Central Park in the time it takes an orchestra to play two movements. But I refuse to accept it when the movie's subtitle tells us that Lyla and Louis met 11 years earlier, yet refers to August as a 12-year-old throughout. By my calculations, that would make someone else August's father, and if that's the case, this should be a very different movie, indeed.
3 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Robin Williams
DIRECTOR: Kirsten Sheridan
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
RATING: PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language.
THE LOWDOWN: A musically gifted orphan runs away to New York City, where he uses his gift to find his mother and father.