Wow, was I in for a disappointment. I hated it. And I didn't just hate it. I hated it with fire and enthusiasm, with a level of feeling I normally reserve for patently evil reality show contestants. The plot was derivative, smarmy, and with a sweet/nasty edge that even Dickens couldn't have pulled off. There were too many plot moments for me where characters simply seemed to do things because the script demanded it. And worst of all, the film seemed to have no real understanding of music, music theory, performance, or musicianship. Instead, it seemed like the second-rate fantasy of someone who has never actually played a note at all, and to me, even above and beyond the cardboard characters and nasty undertones, this was the film's true fatal flaw.
There does seem to be a sizeable contingent of folks on the 'Net defending August Rush with comments that "it's a fantasy!" "It's a fairy tale" -- but my question is, where? Where does this movie show us that it takes place in a magical or alternate universe?
There is not one moment of inexplicable onscreen magic to show us that, in fact, this is a fairytale. Think of moments like the boy and girl taking flight in Nick Castle's previous (and far better) The Boy Who Could Fly, or the 'grail' in The Fisher King, or Peter Sellers walking on water in Being There, or the feather wafting its way back to Forrest's foot. There is never a moment that tells us gently that this is a magical universe and simply a parable.
Instead, it takes place in a rather nasty-spirited present universe in which I have to watch Robin Williams abuse kids while the kid August Rush abuses guitars (almost as bad).
There's another word for all this: Lazy, bad (and I mean, terrible) writing. Writing that just fills in the holes with "it's a fantasy! it's not meant to be real!" Which I guess is why August actually cannot play a guitar correctly (or maybe honestly Freddie Highmore, who can be so good in the right role, simply wasn't able to learn??)
Instead, the characters were by and large utterly unpleasant and truly nasty -- from Keri Russell's evil father, to Jonathan Rhys Meyers's evil bandmates, Robin Williams' (horribly overacted) Fagin-like figure, etc. I don't mind darkness. But unfortunately this movie was not written by Dickens and cannot balance that light and dark, unfortunately. The light is too preposterous and the dark is too genuinely icky and creepy.
The sheer cartoony unpleasantness of most of the movie as well as the complete lack of reality when it came to both music performance AND composition just still make me almost too angry to type about it.
August is depicted as being so talented he doesn't need to learn music notation... or how to actually play an instrument... or how to conduct a symphony... AGHGHGHG. Right. Because music is like maaaagic. Blech. August bashes and abuses guitars in a way that appears to have been inspired by some piano savants like Derek Parvicini (who bashed and/or "karate chopped" the keys before learning to play properly), however despite his incredible gifts, Derek himself did require years of lessons for technique. And Mozart himself, while a child prodigy, still received prodigious amounts of training from his father from toddlerhood.
What I found most offensive here was the myth as presented that music does not need to be learned, music is truth without effort... when that's an insult. Even a melody that occurs in a happy moment -- a melody captured and transcribed -- comes from some basis in training, or listening. Even in savants.
In short, music is hard. Music--beyond mimicry--involves dedication, practice, and training. Music is about interaction and collaboration, about listening. It's about being willing to practice until the muscles know every note by heart so that the real virtuosity can follow. In composition, it's about studying music theory until you know the keys, the tabulature, the chord progressions, the possibilities, to music (even if you plan to break them).
In short, it's insulting because it's about someone's vague idea of what making music must be like, but presented through lazy half-assed writing in which nobody bothered to learn the first thing of what an August would REALLY be like.
Oh, and except for JRM's very nice impromptu rooftop performance, the score and songs were pedestrian and forgettable. The incorporation of street noise into a symphony is supposed to be edgy? (Ooookay.)
I really like some of Nick Castle's other stuff. I love The Boy Who Could Fly, OK? But man oh man, did I hate, hate, hate this movie. Hate. Hate. Hate. Haaaaaaaate. I found it sloppy, unpleasant, yucky, and mean-spirited, with a thin glaze of sicky-sweet. Like a pile of poo covered with maple syrup.
Doesn't matter. It's still poo.