Monday, March 24, 2008

August Rush

On Easter Sunday, my wife and mother compelled me to watch August Rush, a three-hanky weepie starring Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Russell and Rhys Meyers are musicians -- she’s a Juilliard-trained cellist, he’s an Irish rocker -- who conceive after a single night of passion. Russell’s conniving father manages to separate the couple and put his grandchild up for adoption without his daughter even being aware of it (cinematic sleight-of-hand that would strain the credulity of even the most forgiving viewers). Eleven years go by, and the child (Highmore) is stuck in the bureaucratic hell of child welfare services, clinging to the belief that the numinous power of music will somehow reunite him with his parents. He runs away, wanders the streets of New York, faces down a malevolent busker (Robin Williams channeling Bono), masters instruments as diverse as the guitar and organ with next-to-no training, and writes and conducts his own symphony.

You get the idea, I’m sure. The whole thing has enough cheese to fill a Velveeta factory.

But director Kirsten Sheridan comes close to saving the ungainly thing with her tight, economical style. She clusters contrasting shots of the star-crossed lovers, deftly manages depth of field at critical moments and reveals crucial narrative details with simple, powerful images. Little feels wasted, and that strength almost carries the film over its Olympic leaps in logic. It’s a lesson worth remembering. If strong form can elevate a slipshod story, how much more one that is excellent?

(Picture: CC 2007 by Greg McElhatton)

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