This musically-infused fairy tale is directed by Kirsten Sheridan, writer of the poignant In America.
The emotions are obvious in a reimagined Oliver Twist way, in August Rush, that may have trouble reaching an audience as music and romance aren't firmly grounded in reality. One has to let go into this heavy-handed, rather handsome magic realism.
Still, there is an effort to instill the importance of creativity within mores, humor, and sentiment through the protagonist Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
Evan fits in as a Dickensian young hero trying to make it in the Big Apple after leaving a boys' home. He befriends one of group of street kids used by a cowboy named Wizard (think Fagin) hammed up by Robin Williams in an underwhelming part. Wizard is earlier heard playing "Moon Dance" on the harmonica below Washington Square.
It turns out Evan is a musical prodigy brought on by his appreciation for what's around him, and the untaught boy is smooth to say the least in banging the guitar. Wizard provides him with the eponymous title, eyeing him for monetary gain.
The narrative, concocted by Nick Castle and James V. Hart gets one into the milieu of the parents August/Evan is determined to locate. Through flashback some dozen years ago an seraphic classical cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell of Waitress) and a spike-coiffed Irish rocker Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers of Match Point) become close on a New York rooftop (palatable with the film's rating). Lyla's career-oriented dad (William Sadler) ends up putting up the newborn for adoption after explaining that she lost it during birth. Eventually, their lives outside of their calling prove to be unfulfilled, as Louis and Lyla end up on a course to "follow the music".
Those not willing to give in to the way this fable aims to please in a sweet, if cliched manner may have difficulty swallowing how all are affected by a charismatic child busker. The high point occurs during the "August Rhapsody" concert at Central Park. Highmore earns some appeal with this understated, larger role and Russell is mostly in a trance in trying to internalize Lyla's special method of listening. And, she doesn't have much "chemistry" with a miscast Rhys-Meyers, who, nevertheless, has a sonorous interlude with Highmore. And, Terrence Howard (The Brave One) does what he can as a social worker who wants Evan in family placement.
August Rush could have gone the animation route, but the live-action is of a less corny, hokey quality on the production end thanks to some luminous lensing by John Mathieson and flavorful scoring by Mark Mancina. In this latest summoning of the Artful Dodger, the originality comes from the range of natural sounds that accompany the mostly corny melodrama. Most notably, those from everyday life (wind chimes, basketball nets) that captivate and cover a young boy seen in the fields more than this desirous, but unfulfilled flight of fantasy and reality.