Review: "August Rush"

Four years ago, Jim Sheridan, with the help of his daughters and co-screenwriters Kirsten and Naomi Sheridan, made the autobiographical In America, a beautiful, poignant, and ultimately uplifting tale of a family of Irish immigrants trying to escape their tragic past and make a new life in 1980s America. The film was one of the best of the year, and struck a pitch-perfect balance between reality and sentimentality. It is that same balance that Kirsten tries to achieve in her directorial debut August Rush, and in doing so tries so hard she overshoots the mark completely.

The result is a maudlin, cloying mess of a film that never finds its footing or its tone. Freddie Highmore (who I would love to see get the chance to try something new...he’s been given the same performance for several films now, despite his clear talent) stars as Evan, a musical prodigy who runs away from the orphanage he has lived in his entire life in order to find the parents he has never met, who never even knew he was alive. Along the way he meets Max "Wizard" Wallace, a homeless musician who runs a kind of commune for musical children, who play for money on street corners and pool their money at the end of the day. Wizard changes Evan’s name to August Rush and takes him under his wing to develop his astonishing musical instincts, but his possessive nature soon hinders August’s ultimate goal of finding his parents.

This is where August Rush ceases to be about the wonder of music and turns deeply unpleasant. Not that the film had really captured music’s wonder outside of hoary, embarassingly overwrought greeting card sentiments up to that point anyway. It’s awkward and unsure of itself, trying its hardest to ram its way into the hearts of the audience. But it has all the subtlety of street preacher in a gay pride parade. Instead of sneaking into our hearts, it tries to shove and force its way in, ruining any natural emotion built by the already formulaic material. Even when the film finally begins to find its footing, it comes crashing down again by reintroducing Williams’ villainous character, which is by far the weakest part of the story.

The premise itself is not the problem. It’s the execution, which is manipulative in the extreme. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film with such potential turn out so shamelessly obvious and clichéd. You can see the ending coming from a mile away, as Sheridan continues to lay on the saccharine schmaltz in broad, simplistic layers. For a film about the grand beauty and mysteries of music, it is a true shame that the final result is so pandering and unsophisticated. It treats the audience like emotional adolescents, never earning any of the tears it tries so hard to generate. Instead it bludgeons us about the head with its blind mawkishness that’s more likely to cause a sugar-induced headache than tears of joy - unless it is joy that the film is finally over.

GRADE - *½ (out of four)

AUGUST RUSH; Directed by Kirsten Sheridan; Stars Freddie Highmore, Robin Williams, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Terrence Howard; Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language


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