Making the Grades
Sometimes a project deserves a big E for effort -- especially one trying hard to give audiences a heartwarming, feel good story. But even the best of intentions can occasionally miss the mark.
So it is with August Rush, the story of a boy living in an orphanage. Eleven years earlier, his mother, Lyla (Keri Russell), who is a young cellist, meets an Irish rocker (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) on a rooftop where they've both gone to escape a wild house party below. In a matter of hours, the strangers have kissed, cuddled and conceived a child atop a high-rise in the Big Apple. But their plans to meet in Central Park the following day are foiled when Lyla's father (William Sadler) whisks her out of town and back to her musical studies.
By the time she realizes she is pregnant there's no way to contact Louis and let him know about their baby. When the tiny infant arrives following an automobile accident, Lyla's father signs him over to the New York City social system and tells his daughter the child died.
Since then Evan (Freddie Highmore) has continued under the city's care. Called a freak and bullied by the bigger kids at the boys' school, he copes with life by listening to the music in his head. Believing that his parents will come for him, he refuses to be placed in a home despite the encouragement of a concerned social worker (Terrence Howard). Eventually, Evan sneaks out of the institution and begins his own search.
Wandering through the city, he meets up with an underage street performer named Arthur (Leon G. Thomas). Like a lost puppy, Evan follows Arthur home to a condemned opera house where a pack of lost boys survive under the supervision of Wizard (Robin Williams), a Fagin-type character who nightly collects the boys' busking earnings. Although Evan has never touched an instrument, the child prodigy is soon playing a guitar with an odd strumming/banging combination that creates a magical sound. Sensing gold in those untrained fingers, Wizard puts all his efforts into finding moneymaking gigs for the child.
Understandably some strokes of luck and twists of fate will always be involved when unfolding a narrative in a 90-minute time frame. However, what follows is a crescendo of contrived coincidences, near brushes and huge plot gaps that distract from an otherwise genuine attempt at a good storyline. Mere hours after being introduced to sheet music, Evan has written pages and pages of musical scores, complete with accurate notations. Given a chance to sit down at a church organ, he plays beautiful melodies, stops and all. And without any attempts to find his parents or adequately identify him, the boy is accepted into Julliard's School of Music after being dropped off by an inner city reverend.
Through it all, Evan remains positive that his parents will find him if he can just play the music he hears in his head. But viewers may not remain as optimistic despite the film's relatively brief content concerns that include the conception of illegitimate child (off screen), infrequent profanities and depictions of drinking.
Still, the movie tries to give audiences a harmonious finale to this tuneful tale of reunion and familial love. Unfortunately, unlike a musical scale, our grade scale doesn't include an E.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about August Rush.
Some people hear music in their heads. Others hear stories. What influence can those inner voices have on a person? How does Arthur’s love for music sustain him during his time in the orphanage?
The characters in this film talk about hearing and listening. What is the difference? What sounds around us are often unheard? Try sitting quietly for a minute and listening to the sounds you hear.
How do filmmakers use coincidence and missed meetings to build tension in a storyline?