Suspend your disbelief with this warm, Dickens-flavored tale.
If Charles Dickens were alive today, he might be writing projects like "August Rush," the unabashedly sentimental tale of a plucky orphan lad who falls in with streetwise urchins as he seeks the family he ought to have. Come to think of it, Dickens did write that one, and called it "Oliver Twist."
The new version also depends on implausible coincidences to propel the story, and features idealized heroes and a snarling villain. While it's not as well-crafted, it does offer audiovisual pleasures that a novel can't provide. Chief among them are the score and songs, from Hans Zimmer and Mark Mancina, and engaging performances by Freddie Highmore ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") as the abandoned boy, and Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the parents he has never known but must somehow find.
There are too many deliciously far-fetched plot twists, gimmicks and devices to spoil, but very roughly, the situation is this: 10-year-old Evan is a musical prodigy placed in an orphanage in upstate New York. He refuses to be placed with an adoptive family. He instinctively knows his parents are out there and that they yearn for him as he does for them; he hears their presence in the melody of breezes and the harmonies of wind chimes.
He goes AWOL, heading for Manhattan convinced that if he makes music his parents will hear it and be drawn to him. Lyla, a classical cellist, and Louis, an Irish rock guitarist/singer, live apart, thousands of miles away, unaware that they have a child after their single night of love. (I warned you it was improbable -- you could get a year's worth of soap operas out of this movie's plot contrivances.)
Lost in the big city, Evan hears the rumble and ruckus of urban life as a symphony. He falls in with a band of young street-beggar musicians living in the abandoned Fillmore East theater, led by a charismatic father figure named Wizard (Robin Williams, whose smile has rarely looked chillier). Evan masters the guitar overnight and becomes Wizard's top earner. Wizard wants to book his musical wunderkind, stage-named August Rush, on a national tour, but the boy follows his inspiration to the Juilliard School of Music. He composes a concerto that will be presented in Central Park, a sort of sonic homing beacon for his parents, but Wizard is not the type to lose a good earner without a struggle.
Director Kirsten Sheridan ladles a lot of handsome photography and splendid music on the story, hoping we'll forgive the tortured plot manipulation. I was happy to do so. The story is utter mush, but it's told with such disarming sincerity that you smile the whole way through. The music is a kind of magical force driving the movie and keeping our cynical impulses at bay.
With a different sort of movie you might want an ironic distance on the material, a humorous angle on the action. Here that's unnecessary. This is a story about a child and his parents using their love of music as their hearts' compass to locate one another. If its brimming romanticism doesn't put you in a receptive, forgiving mood, you are too rational for your own good.
Colin Covert 612-673-7186