05 January 2013
#2LR - August Rush
We will be taking a break from our regularly scheduled "Civilization Retrospective" in order to double back to Hollywood for a change. Just this evening, I watched the 2007 movie August Rush with my wife, and I wanted to throw out a few comments regarding the movie.
Not that I'm sure any spoiler alerts will be necessary, but here they are regardless. As August Rush begins, we meet orphan Evan, who lives at the Orphanareum. He gets picked on by the older kids, which really is the Circle of Life no matter if you're an orphan, at school, or pretty much anywhere else in life where there are older people who've had the hope beat out of them. As the new social worker comes in to talk to the kids, he seems to awaken something in Evan to want to go out to find his parents.
In the meantime though, we get treated to a jumpcut about Evan's birth. See, in this movie, the subtitles instruct us to go backwards eleven years to the encounter between his mother and father. Mom's a concert cellist, and Dad's a drunken Irish rocker. Much to the movie's credit, they didn't meet professionally... just by happenstance. Their one encounter resulted in Mom's pregnancy, and Mom's father, evil Granddad, gives Evan up for adoption while telling his daughter that the baby passed from the accident that threw her into labor... see, a kid would gum up Granddad's ultimate plan of living vicariously through his daughter.
While the movie gets five bonus points for acknowledging that sometimes things happen at random, like Mom and Dad meeting by chance, it gets five hundred points off for having the audacity to give me a subtitle that includes the words "years ago" without including some sort of time-travel plot. Please, movie, let's make sure that we present a coherent storyline that flows like a river rather than backs up like a septic tank... jumping through time gets confusing after a while, and it almost feels like we should've had this Mom-meets-Dad prologue as a prologue rather than as an aside.
Anyway, Evan manages to make it from backwoods New York to the City itself on the literal back of a turnip truck... well, it was a produce truck at least. Meanwhile, ten years later, Dad's a high-powered executive (?!) in San Francisco while Mom's a music teacher in Chicago. Evan shortly falls into the orbit of Robin "Fagin" Williams and the kids that live in the abandoned theater (the Park Avenue Irregulars I suppose). In this story, Fagin Williams is a musician and can also see that Evan is a child prodigy. So, Fagin Williams quickly moves to become Evan's manager... because, you see, Evan learns to play guitar in about three seconds. Williams also helps Evan change his name after he sees a truck advertising vacations, to the titular "August Rush"
Robin Williams plays a very important role in this movie, what seems to be a necessary role... he's the great reminder that good and evil often do coexist in the form of a single person (or entity). His lessons have good in them -- music is all around and you have to learn to listen for it -- and bad, in that he tells Evan that he shouldn't listen to anyone else because they'll just fill his head with rules. I suppose that this is also a sort of the "passion" side of music, which wants nothing more than to play, play, play regardless of the consequences.
Williams' previous "Artful Dodger" resents Evan taking his top guitarist role and tips the police off to the missing Evan as well as the rest of the kids living in the abandoned theater. The police raid the kids' headquarters and Evan gets separated. His next stop is a church, where he learns the piano in two seconds as well as musical notation. After we get more jumpcut scenes of Evil Granddad kicking the bucket after spilling the beans to Mom that her kid's alive, Mom picking up her search and her cello again, and Dad wanting to play his guitar again (and finally finding out who his one-night stand was, going to Chicago to try to meet up with her). When we see Evan next, he's expertly playing the organ, including the pedalboards at a church. The minister of the church comes out of his office and hears Evan playing. Instead of doing... well, anything, to find out who the boy belongs to, the natural response is... to send him off to Julliard. Huh. (With what money??)
So, now we have a ten-year-old walking the halls of Julliard, and getting reprimanded about doing his homework. (Where does he sleep? In one of the practice rooms?) A couple scenes later, as we see Mom continue to practice her cello for a concert with the New York Philharmonic and Dad audition to a club owner for a gig in New York, Evan is called into a room with about two dozen old people and told that the composition that he's been working on rather than homework is good enough for the New York Philharmonic to play at a concert in Central Park. Especially rich is when we hear the head old person tell him in paraphrase, "We don't ever take a first-year student's composition, especially one so young". There's more analysis about this down below.
At this point, Evan is now practicing his piece with the NY Philharmonic and getting instruction on how to conduct. 'Fagin' Williams comes busting back in his life and separates him from the orchestra, knowing that free concerts isn't a way to make money. To extend the Fagin Williams = musical passion analogy above, Julliard in this movie actually symbolizes the academic, note-writing-down side of music, where there's no real passion like the type that Evan received from Fagin Wiliams. Williams gives Evan back the guitar and the corner of street to play it on. While Fagin Williams is using a public phone to try to line up gigs, Evan's dad randomly comes by, wearing his guitar, and we have unaware father and unaware son doing a duet together. Dad doesn't believe Evan that Evan's got a piece of work going on concert in the evening though. Oh, Dad... can't you feel the Hollywood Majic <TM> swirling around yet?
That evening, 'Fagin' Williams, the previous "Artful Dodger", and Evan are all hanging around a subway platform scrounging for singles. Evan finally realizes that he should be at the concert, as they don't ever take a first-year student's composition and he wrote it because he believes that it's the music that will find his parents. Artful Dodger hits Fagin on the back with the guitar and Evan pulls a runner...
...and when next we see Evan, instead of his street clothes, he has his twelve-year-old-sized tuxedo, ready to direct as if he was around for the last three months rather than just shown direction once. Mom already played her cello piece in the previous work... and for some reason, rather than staying backstage, decided to just wander off to the periphery of the concert. Dad's in a taxi leaving his gig, but the deja vu is thick in the air and he decides to jump out of the taxi, especially when he realizes that Evan isn't full of it and really has a concert appearance (the "sign" is an actual literal sign). As Mom and Dad elbow the crowd out of the way like drunken Altair ibn-La-Ahads, they make their way to the front... and see each other for the first time. Meanwhile, Evan, full of emotion from hearing his composition all the way through for the first time, turns ever so slowly... knowing that his parents are there, and behind him. He sees them, gathers a ginormous smile on his face and then.... the movie ends. Not an epilogue to be had.
There are times that Hollywood feels that it has to help along a story in order to give it the impact that it deserves. This is like a seven-year-old worrying at a scab. Your body will heal the open wound... unless of course you reopen the wound again, in which case the body has to work to cover it back up again. There's a good story in this movie. There's amazingly fantasic music in this movie too. But the movie couldn't leave well enough alone. It wasn't enough that the boy is a musical prodigy... he can also learn to write music in the time that it takes a normal kid to go to school.... for one day. It's not enough that he got away from Fagin Williams... he also manages to get fitted offscreen for an impeccable tuxedo that he also managed to get dressed in offscreen while subsequently directing a concert which he only practiced with the musicians involved for five minutes. Hollywood, stop it. Even with all the crap you pulled up until that point, I would have had goosebumps if you had Evan show up in his shirt and jeans to direct, and people cheering him regardless. This does not give me goosebumps. When you keep testing my suspension of disbelief all the way up to minute 108 of 113, I will groan... and when you do all of this and NOT include an epilogue, I will do the Picard memorial facepalm.
The story of the flashback included Mom and Dad promising to meet each other by Washington Square Arch in NYC. When Fagin Williams' spot happened to be right there at Washington Square Arch, I thought for sure that the meeting between Dad, Mom, and son would be a heartfelt discovery between the three of them, and I was almost prepping for how emotional I was imagining that it'd be. I was NOT imagining that the reunion would be as the son is directing the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as the closing piece of an "Art in the Park"-type thing nowhere near Washington Square Arch. The movie has one hundred five minutes to try to make me suspend my disbelief enough to allow that last sentence to be plausible... but I just can't make that leap.
You may think that I disliked this movie. On the contrary... I would have never wrote all of this if I disliked the movie. As above, the music really is fantastic... it has to be, there's a musical prodigy involved! The characters aren't too bad, especially the humor of Dad's Irish accent. It's almost nonexistent when he's a stuffed suit, but when he's back in the band he's almost incapacitated by it. I would watch the movie again due to the music itself... which makes it that much more heartbreaking to have Hollywood tell the story that it did around the music. And if your suspension of disbelief is stronger than mine, and you like music... this is absolutely the movie for you.
Final rating: 2.8.