A fairy tale about the power and beauty of music
The titular August (Freddie Highmore, Jr.) is a child abandoned by his parents, living unhappily in an orphanage and holding tight to the hopes that one day he will find his mom and dad. The key to his hopes is his belief that if he can make music and they can hear it, everything can be fixed. It's certainly a long shot, but he believes it so much, he runs away from his upstate orphanage and heads to New York City to chase his dreams.
At the same time, in the film at least, two young musicians, Irish rocker Louis (Jonathan Rhys Myers) and classical cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) find each other beneath the pale moon light, and share a night together. Their individual lives conspire to pull them apart though, and they go their separate ways, though neither is happy about it, and the unhappiness culminates in a tragic accident. Time passes, people change, but these two are still hung up on each other, despite never seeing each other again. But then, a slip of the tongue by Lyla's overbearing stage father reveals she has some unfinished business that's wandering around somewhere. (Figure it all out yet?)
Wandering around New York City, August quickly falls in with a gang of street urchins led by Wizard (Robin Williams), who sends them across the metropolis to sing for their supper (and his.) Once you see their hideout, an abandoned playhouse, and experience their many musical talents, you'll start to pick apart the many influences that shaped this movie, as these lost boys are soon usurped by the very talented newcomer, whom Wizard sees as his meal ticket. That a pied piper like Wizard, who fluctuates psychotically between caring patron of the arts and hard-driving slave-master, could exist in any city not created by Dickens is patently ludicrous, and further serves to illustrate the artificial nature of the film. Throw in Terence Howard as the most caring and least busy social worker in the history of NYC and you've got everything you need for an overblown TV film.
From there things spiral to new heights of fictionality, including a religious experience in a black church and acceptance at Julliard, despite no formal training. Watching a movie where a young child can go from dirty ragamuffin in the subway to shit-shined in a tux in approximately five minutes made me think perhaps the first edit of this movie excised all vestiges of reality from the film, in an attempt to create an aneurysm in the minds of more thoughtful viewers. It almost feels like the movie taunts you with its illogical storyline, slapping you and saying "What are you going to do about it?"
Well, there's not much you can do, because once August's otherworldly ability to play music comes to light, the film goes crazy, trying to get through as many plot points as possible before culminating in the most motivationless and coincidental endings I've ever experienced outside of a first-year creative writing class. If not for the beautiful score and soundtrack, and Highmore's natural capability to not seem cloying, I would have given up much earlier, but there I was, right there to the end, where I actually got a bit misty. That's the power of the human heart I guess. Some forces just can't be resisted and as the movie says, music is one of them.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is uniformly good, putting the dialogue dead-center for the majority of the film, saving the surrounds to handle the bulk of the work when delivering the film's many musical moments. It's highly enjoyable to just sit back and enjoy the power of the score and soundtrack, including some quality guitar songs that really sing.
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