Romantic melodrama meets Oliver Twist in this odd, quasi-mystical movie that’s too silly for adults to take seriously and frankly too weird for kids.
Spring, 1995: On a rooftop garden overlooking Greenwich Village’s Washington Square, two strangers fall in love to the sounds of a street musician blowing Van Morrison’s “Moondance” on a harmonica in the park below. Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is an Irish-born singer who’s just played a gig at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza with his brother, Marshall (Alex O'Loughlin) and their band. Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) is a promising young concert cellist who just wowed an audience with a concerto played under the baton of her domineering father, renowned conductor Thomas Novacek (William Sadler). One thing leads to another and morning finds Louis and Lyla still on the rooftop, asleep in each other’s arms. Before racing back to the hotel where her father is impatiently waiting, Lyla agrees to meet Louis later that morning. Maestro Novacek, however, won’t hear of it, and bundles Lyla into a limousine before she can even tell Louis goodbye. Lyla soon realizes she’s pregnant a result of that romantic rooftop tryst and decides to keep the baby, but is later struck down by a car after an argument with her father. When she awakens in the hospital, Thomas Novacek tells her she lost the baby. Twelve years later, Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore), an unusual, gifted young boy who’s been remanded to the care of the Walden County School for Boys in upstate New York, believes that his long-lost parents are somewhere out there, and that if he only listens closely enough to the music made by the wind, the grass and the high-tension wires, he’ll find them. Bullied by the older boys and determined to be reunited with his family, Evan runs away from home and heads to New York City, where he hopes to enlist friendly child-services worker Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard) in his search. Instead, Evan falls in with Maxwell Wallace (Robin Williams, asinine in red muttonchops and black leather), a Fagin-like character who goes by the name "Wizard" and runs his army of ragamuffin child buskers out of the abandoned Fillmore East. No sooner does Evan pick up the battered Gibson guitar belonging to pint-size musician Arthur X (Leon G. Thomas III) than strange, alluring sounds begin pouring out. Knowing natural talent when he sees it, the Wizard promises to make him a star. He changes Evan’s name to “August Rush” and tries to book him at seedy bars a career track that will benefit the Wizard far more than a 12-year-old boy, and one that will take Evan ever further from finding his family.
The film unfolds on three fronts: Evan’s efforts to find his parents, Lyla’s realization that the child she thought had died is still alive, and Louis’ journey back from a career in finance to the music he abandoned after Lyla left him heartbroken. Not surprisingly, all three storylines converge in New York via a series of absurd coincidences that the movie asks us to accept as some sort of cosmic orchestral score audible only to those who allow themselves to hear the overtones of the universe, or some such nonsense. By the end, 12-year-old “August Rush” is conducting the New York Philharmonic in Central Park as they play one of his own original compositions, and if that isn’t one of the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen in a movie, Lord help you.
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