The title character, played by Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”) is a musical prodigy on par with Mozart, able to teach himself to play any instrument he comes across in a matter of hours, and with a preternatural compositional ability, literally hearing music everywhere, even in the movements of everyday life. And if that sounds unbearably pretentious, it’s even worse on screen.
And the fault must rest squarely on director and co-screenwriter Kirsten Stewart (“In America”), who can’t seem to decide whether she’s making a narrative film or some sort of musical tone poem, and the biggest victims are the characters, who are largely non-existent.
In between the admittedly excellent musical moments, no character in the film speaks except to deliver the exposition that moves the already thin plot forward, and the pace moves forward so quickly for everyone except August. The result is pieces of story without context, and the effect is ultimately alienating.
Lyla (Keri Russell) is an overly protected cello prodigy, but not protected enough to keep from having baby August with free-spirited Irish rocker Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) before he’s taken away and sent to an orphanage in upstate New York. But what do any of these people think or feel about what’s happening to them? There’s no telling, such questions seem completely outside of Stewart and her screenwriters’ care. To say that the characters are hastily sketched is a vast understatement.
The only character that gets any sort attention is Robin Williams’ Faginesque Wizard, a street musician who uses a cadre of talented, homeless children to play for money for him. Wizard is the only person that we get some sort of idea of what he’s been through in his life, and how it has affected him, particularly in his intense anti-establishment attitude. Unfortunately, he also gets the worst of the wannabe mystical dialogue about the magical nature of music, and the way it connects people through shared emotions it creates.
Which seems to be what Sheridan is misguidedly going for. The musical sequences themselves, by composer Mark Mancina and a cadre of talented guitarists, are genuinely moving, but they’re no substitute for an actual story or characters.
Essentially an extended music video, and with about as much narrative weight, “August Rush” is empty, flat, and pointless. Avoid.