We’ve finally reached the tipping point where casting Robin Williams has officially become a liability. A case in point: August Rush is a perfectly acceptable modern fairy tale about an orphaned young boy (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Freddie Highmore) who feels that his love of music will reunite him with his parents one day. It is a sweet idea, and Highmore with his sad eyes and apparent vulnerability is perfectly cast. If you buy into the idea that this neo-Oliver Twist could truly believe this airy-fairy idea about the magical power of music, then August Rush will work for you. Work for you, that is, until Robin Williams comes along with his Bono-wannabe hat and all his usual bluster and completely throws the movie off the rails.
Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers play Lyla and Louis, musicians from two different worlds. He’s a poor rock singer, she a rich cello prodigy. They meet on a rooftop overlooking NYC’s Washington Square Park, spend the night together and conceive a child. Her overbearing father conspires to keep them apart, and following a tragic car accident tells Lyla that the child was killed, while, in fact, secretly putting it up for adoption.
Eleven years later Lyla and Louis have moved on. She’s now a music teacher, unaware that her son is still alive; disillusioned he’s given up music completely. The child, convinced he can locate his parents, escapes the orphanage where he has grown up and makes off for the big city. He comes under the spell of a “musical Fagin” named Wizard (Robin Williams) who imparts new agey wisdom like “music is the harmonic connection between all living beings” and teaches the boy how to play the music that may eventually reunite him with his parents.
You have to have a strong willingness to suspend your disbelief to buy into August Rush’s storyline, but if you can you’ll find lots here to like. Highmore is a charmer on screen, Russell and Meyers are the very definition of star-crossed and director Kirsten Sheridan gives the proceedings an agreeable fairy tale feel, but whenever Williams hits the screen it’s as though this fable’s Ogre has awoken to chew the scenery and destroy any of the good will the movie had already accrued. He’s so annoying, and in the later half of the movie, so unnecessary to the plot, that the term “over-the-top” scarcely does him justice.
August Rush is a well-meaning but clichéd film with a nice message and decent music, but is almost done in by its casting.