“Scathing Reviews. Bitchy People.” It’s not only our motto here at Pajiba, but also our cross to bear. We’ve unwittingly created a beast — an expectation that, if the movie in question is not The Big Lebowski or the latest Miyazaki creation (so far as I can tell, the only two things on this site that have been spared a tongue lashing either above or below the comment line), then we apparently have a moral-bound duty to trash it. And while there is absolutely nothing I love more than ejaculating a half-gallon of sticky, viscous hate on a deserving movie, especially exploitative studio flicks with no higher purpose than to soil some soulless studio exec in fecal green, occasionally we actually get to witness a film that doesn’t inspire loathing. And with all due respect to our wittier-than-average readers, when it infrequently happens that we’ve stumbled into a movie that doesn’t feel like a cinematic paper cut, there is nothing more dispiriting than to compose a review that’s met with readers beseeching, “Where’s the bitchy? Where’s the scathing?” which is especially common in films that feature a universally-reviled actor or actress (who isn’t, anymore?) who turns in a performance that belies their reputation. C’mon, folks: If we hated every movie, there wouldn’t be much point, would there? I like to think of us as the converse of television legal dramas that throw in a “guilty” every once in a while just to shake things up — when the product warrants it, we will occasionally proclaim “not guilty” just to keep you folks on your toes.
But for those who will read this review and — knowing only what you’ve seen from the adverts, namely, that the universally-reviled Robin Williams is involved — beg for the bitchiness and then, as some of you are wont to do, claim that I’ve gone soft, I have only this to offer: Here’s my ass. Form a single-file line. And you can all take turns jumping up it. Because while August Rush is not an important film, while it is not a serious one, or an Oscar contender, or subversive, or destined to be a cult classic, it is a movie that — if you allow it — will liquefy your innards, that will make your small little atrophied hearts grow three sizes and then melt into a giant puddle of gop that those poor, put-upon theater workers will have to mop up while you’re out singing and holding hands with the denizens of Whoville. It is a magically romantic movie in the way that movies are meant to be romantic, a feel good movie that still feels good after you’ve taken stock, after you’ve digested it all and checked the undercarriage for faulty lines because you may just find that you’ve sprung a goddamn leak.
August Rush is a modern taken on Dickens’ Oliver Twist written by Nick Castle (Escape from New York) and Paul Castro, and directed by Kristen Sheridan, who some of you may recognize as the daughter who co-wrote In America with her father, Jim Sheridan. In fact, August Rush shares with In America a similar tone, the same warm and fuzzy aura, and a kind-hearted Irishness that Jonathon Rhys Meyers has seemingly borrowed from Paddy Considine. It is, above all, a fairy tale, a film about hope and destiny and the power of music and all the things that sound corny and clichéd in print and that want to make you stick your finger down your throat and retch all over a concrete wall in graffiti splendor but that, somehow, on the big screen blend together here into a big pot of delicious, heartwarming Stone Soup. And if you gotta problem with that, the ass-jumping queue is still open.
Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) stars as Evan Taylor, a 10-year-old musical prodigy left at birth to the care of social services. Convinced that he can hear his parents through music, Evan runs away in search of them, abandoning his caseworker, Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard, at his warm-heartiest) and takes up residence in an abandoned and dilapidated theater controlled by The Wizard (Robin Williams). Williams is the movie’s Fagin, an abusive asshole of a man who exploits his little orphanage of the musically inclined for their panhandling abilities.
Meanwhile, while Evan — who co-opts the name of a bottled water company to avoid detection by social services while The Wizard attempts to pimp him out to local clubs — is searching for his folks, Sheridan simultaneously tracks the backstory of his parents. His mother, Lyla Novacek (the gorgeous Kerri Russell), is a master cellist who has a blissful one-night stand with the lead singer of a rock band, Louis (Rhys Meyer), before they are torn apart by circumstance. Later in her pregnancy, she is involved in an accident while fleeing from her authoritarian father and, when she wakes up in a hospital, is told that her baby didn’t survive. In fact, her Dad (William Sadler) turned him over to a boy’s home, a revelation that she learns 10-years-later on her father’s deathbed. Elsewhere, Louis — like Lyla — abandons music all together after their relationship doesn’t work out, but takes it up again a decade later when he decides to track down his one-true love. In the present day, when a church pastor (Mykelti Williamson, a.k.a., Bubba Gump) discovers August, he puts him in Julliard, where his musical talent blossoms, and which ultimately sets up a huge concert in Central Park, where Lyla is the cellist, August is the composer, and Louis is a musician playing at a nearby club.
And no: There’s not a note of plausibility in August Rush. It is magical realism at its best, an urban fantasy about the connective powers of music — or “the harmonic connection between all living beings,” as Williams intones. And if you can’t abide by magical realism, if hardened cynicism is all you have in the tank, and if the only suspension of disbelief you can muster is for The Dude as he flies the sky, then August Rush will be lost on you. It’s a goddamn shame, too, because the climactic culmination of a rousing symphony, the exchange of wet glances, and the motherfucking explosion of melt that August Rush delivers is exactly why I will sit through 100 shitty movies in the hopes of finding a golden nugget at the bottom of the excrement pile that might allow me ever-so-briefly to lay off the suicide metaphors and give in to the feel. good. powers of film.
Indeed, August Rush is exactly what many of you are yearning for during the holidays: A big, sloppy sentimental kiss that drips off your chin and leaves you and your shirt collar basking in goopy wetness. And as for the rest of you, I’m sure Hitman is playing in a theater next door.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
August Rush / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | November 21, 2007 | Comments ()