Evan (Highmore), a foundling musical prodigy, sets off to locate his parents (Rhys Meyers and Russell). But he falls into the clutches of Wizard (Williams), who renames him August Rush and plans to exploit his talent.
Kirsten Sheridan, the daughter of Irish filmmaker Jim (My Left Foot, In The Name Of The Father) and an Oscar nominee herself for co-scripting dad’s In America, tackles a worryingly twee premise. Luckily, she makes a rather enchanting job of it. The family audience-oriented story might be very, very Oliver Twist, but the execution is unblushingly that of a fairy tale, from the opening aerial shot of darling Freddie Highmore, conducting the music in his head in the centre of a swirling field of wheat, to a Manhattan twinkling like a magical kingdom.
Moving back and forth in time, we first meet Highmore’s bullied Evan in an orphanage, where his only comfort is the music he hears in everything around him (a conceit Sheridan handles charmingly). We are then treated to the brief but passionate love affair between Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Irish rock guitarist and Keri Russell’s sheltered classical cellist. Quite how a couple manage to lose not only each other but the baby they conceived under a magical full moon is hard to account for in this day of search engines and your-whole-life-is-there-for-all-to-see databases, but the pair suffer both travails at the hissable contrivance of Russell’s mean, ambitious father.
Eleven years after the romance, daddy, mummy and foundling are spread across the country but share a mystic musical bond, so plucky Evan runs away to New York to make his music heard, believing it will lead his lost parents to him. Given how many people want to become famous, he does so with mind-blowing ease, securing a full scholarship to Juilliard and a concert showcase in Central Park before you can say, “Hang on a minute…”
That all doesn’t proceed happily for quite an anxious age is down to Robin Williams’ malevolently OTT musical street hustler Wizard, a Fagin-like figure (though impishly modelled, wardrobe-wise and in demeanour, on Bono) who takes in homeless waifs at his squat in an abandoned theatre, ruthlessly sets the kiddies to busking, and knows a meal-ticket star when he hears one. Everyone else is a bit terrific, including some sidekick musical tykes with real chops. Mark Mancina’s original score is a treat too, and atmospherically appropriate, although Oliver! it ain’t.
Unapologetically preposterous, but it is a (very sweet) fairy tale and Highmore is captivating.