- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on www.commonsensemedia.org.

‘August Rush’

Rating: PG

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 9 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 113 minutes

Common Sense review: Ah, young love. It’s the heady cocktail that entwines two young musicians — Irish singer-guitarist Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and reserved, brilliant cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) — in this imperfect-but-winning film. After meeting cute in Greenwich Village, they spend the night together, but morning brings the harsh glare of sunlight — and reality: Lyla is whisked away by her protective father (William Sadler).

Nine months later, when a pregnant Lyla winds up in the hospital after an accident, she is told that the baby she and Louis conceived that night has died. Only he hasn’t. Instead, Evan (Freddie Highmore) is sent to a home for wayward boys, where he pines for his parents, believing he can will them to find him through his music. (He’s a prodigy, able to tap into the harmonies of nature — grass rustling, wind howling — and command new instruments the moment he picks them up.)

So when they fail to materialize at the dreary institution’s doorsteps, he sets out to look for them. With the help of a social worker (Terrence Howard), and the propulsive force of his music, he just might.

“August Rush” proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. Despite the lows — and there are lows — you just know there will be a happy ending. Allegorical and not altogether literal, the movie is part musical and part fantasy, a combo that doesn’t always quite mesh. But the stars — particularly Freddie and Miss Russell — are charming, and so innocent that you almost can believe a story like this could happen in real life.

Robin Williams, however, strikes the wrong chord as Wizard, an aging busker, who, Fagin-like, rounds up a bunch of musically inclined street urchins, encourages them to play, then keeps much of their take at the end of the day. (Evan takes up with them, and it’s Wizard who renames him August Rush.) With his hat and swagger, Mr. Williams seems to be channeling Bono by way of “Saturday Night Live.” The effect is humorous, but not for the right reasons; you keep expecting him to go off on one of his riffs to signal that he’s joking.

“August Rush” does a great job of establishing the connection between Evan and his mother; in two separate scenes, they discuss how many days they have been apart, using nearly the same syntax. There doesn’t appear to be the same bond between Evan and his father (though seeing them play guitar together is somewhat moving). Director Kirsten Sheridan draws the link between Louis and Lyla much more clearly, making their coupling seem completely inevitable and, consequently, dreamy and meant-to-be.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that overall, this emotional drama is fairly good family entertainment, with sexual content at a minimum and lots of warmth and great musicianship. That said, there is a bit of violence, some social drinking and a few iffy words. Because the first half of the movie relies on lots of flashbacks — which could be confusing for younger children — it’s probably a better pick for tweens and teens.

Families can talk about what kind of movie this is — Is it a drama? A fantasy? Both? How can you tell? Do you expect a movie like this to be realistic? Families also can discuss how the movie portrays music. Does it really have the power to connect people? To heal their wounds? Why? Can you think of other movies that depict music’s enormous, and sometimes magical, reach? Last but not least, what can viewers learn from how Evan keeps believing in a kinder, gentler world, despite his background and everything that happens to him? What’s the big lesson here?

Sexual content: A couple kisses and spends the night together (they’re shown fully clothed the next morning, cuddling); another couple kisses on a stairwell.

Language alert: Just a few iffy words.

Violence alert: Two brothers argue and lunge at each other; a man yells at children, flashes a knife and commands them to keep working for him; later, he chases down Evan; cops raid a dilapidated theater to find runaway children; bullies at a boys home taunt a much younger boy; a father and daughter scream at each other.

Social behavior alert: For the most part, everyone behaves out of the goodness of their heart, though Lyla’s father seems coldhearted,and Wizard is a little creepy and cruel.

Alcohol/tobacco/drug alert: Some drinking in bars and social situations.

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