Friday, November 23, 2007

August Rush: Should be called "Audience Rush"

As in rushing out the doors for air, coffee and the cold dissonant winds of reality. Seriously. I spent the middle portion of the film on the floor outside the theater's bathroom with my head in my hands trying to shake the suffocation of this film.

Jon and I made the mistake of ignoring critics' reviews for this one. I didn't read them. (Post-it note to self: ALWAYS read critics' reviews first.) It seemed that the other two choices for the holidays (Enchanted, Beowulf) left us with a split family decision whereas "August Rush" promised to "bring us together." So being modest fans of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Freddie Highmore, seven of us forked over full price (ouch!) for a "feel-good" fairytale. Only six managed to sit through it the whole way through. I was not one of them.

I knew air was leaving my lungs the moment Evan Taylor, orphan in a boys' home (Highmore), recited the voice-over narration in the opening scene of the film. Cliches like "The music is all around us, if we will just listen" marched out of his mouth on cue while the wind whipped tall grasses around his small body and he, ironically, without rhythm or fluidity of movement, attempted to move in time to their sounds as one who "hears the music" unlike all the other orphaned schlubs who -cut to winter- submitted to "hard labor" of digging frozen earth in the snow by "forces uncaring and cold" - as all boys' homes directors of the 21st century are). I was in for a painfully long, badly written, metaphor-laden slog.

I kept wondering how the writers got out of seventh grade English. "The music is all around us. If we'll only hear it." Are you kidding me?

That writing is the equivalent of the discovery that roses have both blooms (beauty, love, artistry) and thorns (pain, risk, hurt)... You know, the contrasts, the idea of love having both beauty and sorrow, the metaphorical idea of the rose equaling love... Oh I didn't need to spell that out for you? You've heard that one once or twice in your lifetime? How about I drag my teeth over a blackboard now to cleanse the palette? EEEAKEREEEREK.

How many times do you need to be told that "no one listens to the music of life" or "you can hear it if you listen"? Good God! Trust in the power of showing, not telling, Mahn! Quit smacking us upside the head with a 10 pound Honeybaked ham (though at least the brown sugary sweetness of the ham has flavor).

Even if we bracket the musical metaphors (where, incidentally, music reminds us that there is more out there than we ourselves know... by the way), the implausibility of the sequence of events, intended to be fairytale-like, instead induces Tourette's-like outbursts: "Fire!" and "Bomb!" —anything to get people safely out of the building.

Spoiler alert: After a one-night stand between a famous cellist and a rock musician without chemistry or dialog or much kissing, Evan is conceived. The cellist's father separates his compliant, scared-of-her-own-shadow daughter from her rock musician and later forges her signature to give up the baby to adoption (but tells his daughter the baby died). Evan Taylor is orphaned (inexplicably never adopted as a baby) and, so it turns out, is an undiscovered musical prodigy.

So here's how it plays out, all right? Cellist is pregnant with rock musician's kid for the full nine months but never thinks to contact the father? Father who was completely devastated that the best sex of his life (couldn't be love) has left him never seeks her out?

Child is raised in orphanage where he listens to the music of nature and is convinced (nutty as it appears to the other orphaned kids) that he will find his parents by following the music (how rational!). As one reviewer points out, he inherits their talent, and, amazingly, his father's accent!

Evan leaves the orphanage for the streets of New York with no money and a sweatshirt where he is never in danger. He joins a musical gang led by Robin Williams (a cross between Bono and Fagin) and in one night discovers that he can play guitar! (He plays in some banging fashion that Highmore never manages to imitate successfully or believably.) Evan exchanges his name for the stage name August Rush (horrid Bon Jovi era choice) at this point in the story.

Next, Evan/August impresses a churchman by learning musical theory and how to play a church organ in half a day, by himself. Yeah. Then he is admitted to Juilliard (of course!) for six months (without parents or legal guardians or money) where his first full symphony is referred to the NY Philharmonic for a performance in Central Park, that he will conduct (who else?).

Evan's parents waste a lot of film time doing a lot of nothing (with close-up head shots) that is meant to lead them to Central Park on the same day, at the same time... which, surprise, surprise, it does! And yet after all the cloying, follow-the-music reminders littered through the film pointing to the climax of reunion, we never get one. Instead, we see mom and dad walk trance-like right past the thousands gathered at the concert until they are in front. They see each other, hold hands without saying a word (it's been 12 years people!) watching their son (dad doesn't know he has a son and thinks mom is married - subplot that went nowhere) and son (Evan/August) finishes the piece, turns to face the audience, sees them and *knows*! Cue black screen. Credits scroll to sappy love song.

Yeah, didn't really like it.


Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for the review Julie! Our general movies rules.. yeah we have rules.. I wish I didn't remember that.. oh well.. are to always check the reviews and catch the flick only if it gets 2.5 (out of 4) stars or more from the local critic. We have broken the rules.. and sometimes are surprised.. A Night at the Roxbury was one of those surprises.. lame but really had us laughing :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

While I don't rely on any particular critic to influence my movie choices but I do find it helpful to read a number of critics before I give my hard earned dollar to the entertainment industry. I figure if the vast majority of critics either really like or not like a film, I generally trust, they all can't be off base...Sorry to hear about your latest movie adventure...May I suggest checking out Into the Wild?...I saw that film a couple of weeks ago and felt it was more than worth the money I spent. I wrote about it on my blog if you want more details. The music is great and the story very compelling....

Sentient Marrow said...

Hah- Thanks for the warning. I saw the commercial for it tonight and thought it could be OK to see.

Anyway, I highly recommend Enchanted. 5 out of 7 of us saw it together along with my Mom and sister and it totally cracked us up. Eli is going to see it tonight with his girlfriend. It's a bit slow in the beginning... the animated portion could be cut to five minutes and is instead about ten but other than that it was just a really fun movie to see as a family and it makes fun of the fluff of Disney fairytales but still has a happily ever after.

NoVA Dad said...

Thanks for the review; I had seen several ads for this movie but hadn't yet read a review, and was really questioning whether to go to see it, wait to put it on the Netflix list, or ignore it altogether. Being a lover of organ music, wasn't sure whether the brief scene I saw of him playing in a church would be worth the price of admission!!

On my list (if I can convince A. to go with me) are the new Denzel Washington movie and "No Country for Old Men." Might have to hold off on the second until after I've read the book...

Kansas Bob said...

Ann told me that August Rush got 2.5 stars in the KC paper.. so much for my rules :(

Dave said...

What a funny review! I appreciate the entertainment value that you were able to wring out of this dreadful experience. Nice job slashing away at the cliches - it looks like the emotional engineers behind movies like this one rather overplayed their hands... though I suppose that there is still an audience out there for those conveniently sliced'n'diced Honeybaked hams!

I sympathize with the difficulty of finding a movie that actually "draws the family together," especially since you still have younger-ish kids (don't tell them I said that.) That's hard to find with our bunch. Julie doesn't like profanity or violence, Lys is mostly into whimsy or girlie movies, I like the art house stuff and basically require some kind of "edge" to hold my interest, and the twins are resistant to anything that seems aimed at being consciously "family friendly." Derek is pretty easy going compared to the rest of us. The last thing that we saw together as a group was "Dan in Real Life" which had a little something for everyone but didn't necessarily thrill any of us!

I enjoyed "The Darjeeling Limited" but that recommendation is contingent on already having some familiarity and appreciation of the "Wes Anderson" style. (See Bottle Rocket, Rushmore or Royal Tenenbaums first if you aren't already initiated.) But, like Bilbo's rec of "Into The Wild," it's not one you'd want to bring Caitrin or Liam to, at least not without seeing it first.

carrie said...

I read a review in a VA paper while at my in-laws that was almost identical to yours!! LOL! He said something to the effect that you didn't need spilled soda to stick to the floor of the theater, the movie was syrupy enough to give you diabetes.

carrie said...

Just FYI- Erika nd Hannah didn't care for Beowulf. Erik thought it was fine but couldn't figure how it managed a PG-13 with the amount of gore. (Big gore factor, according to them.) Hannah was furious because she thought it was lame and, worse, it changed the story and therefore the impact of the original poem.

Steve said...

Rotten Tomatoe Scores I checked before going to the movies on Friday:

Enchanted - 93%

Lars & The Real Girl -78% (used as a control by me, as I saw it and LOVED it)

August Rush - 39%

Nancy wanted to see August Rush, and she was outvoted by a landslide.

We went to see Enchanted. Made me laugh, as Disney was poking fun at themselves, and liked it much. We all enjoyed it, all four of us, come to think!

You know what to do next time, Julie. Good luck on that "family unity" thing, sounds like a nice idea, in theory.

kimmy said...

Duly noted.

However, I DO want to see Enchanted :)

r. michael said...

Nice review Julie, I think I enjoyed reading the review more than I would have enjoyed the movie...Like Bilbo would recommend "Into the Wild" but see the movie before you read the book. The movie makes the main character a lot more likable than the book. After reading the book I asked myself "why should I care about this guy?" which unfortunately carried over into the movie for me.

Sometimes (rarely) the movie is better than the book...e.g."Jaws"

isaiah said...

I really did want this movie to be great!

Great cast!!

brian said...

I picked August Rush on Netflix and we watched it last night. It was one of those I put into my queue and then forgot why I had. Kayla suggested we all watch it together. I remembered that you had reviewed it. But, I forgot (until I looked up your review this morning) that you hated it.

We loved the movie. I found myself really caught up in Evan's story. Yes, it was unbelievable. The coincidences. The fact he wasn't adopted, etc., etc. But, to me it was a fantasy movie and I was easily able to overlook the details that were unbelievable. I loved the soundtrack. After watching the movie, I just had to look up the choir that Even discovered in the church.

It's funny how some of us can watch a movie and hate it while others watch the same thing and love it. I guess that's what keeps things interesting.