After a string of depressing dramas that I skipped this past month -- 30 Things We Lost Baby Lost on Rendition Road -- the itch resumed and a screening for August Rush was an opportunity to scratch it.
While not a musical, August Rush does incorporate vocals and instrumentation into its story, and requires a suspension of disbelief equivalent to any live-action fairy tale. The protagonist and narrator (Freddie Highmore) tells us that prodigy cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) made a little music with pre-emo guitarist Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) 11 years ago, and that genetics seemed to take care of the rest.
I don't want to say much more about the plot because the spoiler risk is high. (The above picture is one of the few that doesn't give away too much.) The film finds a way to be emotionally gripping even though the characters experience very little adversity. So stop looking; you won't find realism here.
The movie flows well, with one exception: Robin Williams. As any description of this movie will tell you, parts of the story resemble Oliver Twist, and his promoter/hustler persona is designed to fit right in. But this presents two problems. First, I feel like Williams has done this kind of role before, and so he adds nothing of interest here. Second, I think the Oliver Twist subplot should have been a little less spot-on; Williams' character needed to be about 15-20 years younger, and a lot less creepy. As it stands, I don't see the character's appeal or understand why he still carries and nurtures his feelings of abandonment. (I understand why Williams was cast -- marquee value and familiarity -- but I found him distracting.)
Highmore is an unusual actor: he tends to blow the adults off the screen -- yes, even Terrence Howard -- but gives a little ground to his fellow kid actors. This flexibility and generosity are testaments to his skill, as is his devoted (but not overly enthusiastic) approach to a tricky story that couldn't have been easy to anchor.
I should mention that director Kristen Sheridan joins Alison Eastwood (of this fall's Rails & Ties) in that sorority of daughters of famous directors who also direct studio features. When thinking up other members, Sofia Coppola of course comes to mind, but also consider Jennifer Lynch and Asia Argento. I'm sure someone will make a bigger deal out of this than it needs to be, but certainly there's no reason that these women shouldn't have the same career trajectories as, say, Jake Kasdan or Jason Reitman.