Image via impawards
August Rush is a lovely, whimsical little film. It's how I would imagine Annie in the 21st Century, not as a boy (obviously), but in tone and scope. August (played by the wide-eyed Freddie Highmore) shares Annie's naive, infectious, and at times cloying enthusiasm, as well as a gift for music. Both are taken into the heart of high society (Juilliard for August and the stately home of Oliver Warbucks for Annie) only to be wrenched back into reality, before reassuming their rightful place. Cue: happy ending.
Director Kirsten Sheridan seems to encourage this fanciful, fairytale quality of the film. It is told from August's perspective, with all the promise of a full-mooned sky. Any plot holes in the story are skipped over by Highmore's softly-spoken narration, reminding us that this is indeed August's fairytale.
That's not to say fairytales are all sweetness and light. The performances by Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are wonderful, and ground this fable with real emotion. I thought Terrence Howard was a little wasted as the caring child services officer Richard Jeffries, but he supported two great scenes with Russell and Highmore. The first interview Jeffries has with earnest August is absolutely remarkable. Highmore is an amazing talent. His understated performance is in direct contrast to the bombastic Robin Williams as busker and father figure Wizard.
It's not drawing too long a bow to suggest that Wizard is a reimagining of Annie's Miss Hannigan. Both run orphanages (of sorts) and are overrun not only by the children, but by their own eccentricities. Not to mention both try to adopt Annie and August for their own selfish gains. However, while Miss Hannigan is more of a caricature who takes to her gin, Wizard is a complex and sympathetic character. His attempts to harness August's prodigious talent and rescue him from the strictures of Julliard are given enough berth to not come across as entirely nutsy.
Fortunately August Rush departs from Annie and her show tunes. The music is much more instrumental (in both senses of the term), leading August to Manhattan to find his musician parents. The soundtrack is a lovely mix of classical music, indie ballads and August's own unique soundscape.
I believe in music, the way some people believe in fairytales.
August Rush is for people who believe in both.