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Film / August Rush

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"I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales."

August Rush is a 2007 Academy Award-nominated drama film directed by Kirsten Sheridan and written by Paul Castro, Nick Castle, and James V. Hart, and produced by Richard Barton Lewis. It has been called an up-to-date reworking of the Oliver Twist story by Charles Dickens.

A boy named Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) lives in an orphanage but believes that his parents are alive. He believes that the music that he hears all around him (which others interpret as background noise) is his parents communicating with him. He meets a counselor, Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard), of the New York Child Services Department. Evan tells Jeffries that he does not want to be adopted because he believes his parents are still alive and will come to collect him eventually.

Through a series of flashbacks, his parents are revealed to be Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), a famous concert cellist, and Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an Irish guitarist and lead singer of a rock band. Lyla and Louis spent one romantic night together and never saw each other again - they were forced to separate by Lyla's domineering father. Lyla became pregnant; her father did not approve because he wanted Lyla to have a successful career without the obstacle of a child. After an argument with her father, Lyla ran out of a restaurant and was hit by a car. While in the hospital, she gave birth to a son. Afterward, she was told by her father that her child had died, but he had been delivered successfully and then given up for adoption by her father, who forged Lyla's signature on the necessary paperwork.

Louis has never forgotten Lyla and does not know about Evan. Both have since given up performing; Lyla is a music teacher in Chicago, and Louis is an unhappy financial minion in San Francisco.

Evan believes deeply that as long as he follows the music he hears and reacts to it, he will have a chance to be found by his parents. He runs away from the state institution and makes his way to New York City, where he is taken in by a man known as "Wizard" (Robin Williams), who houses various orphans and runaways, employing them to play music on the streets and taking a large cut of their tips. Evan immediately proves to be a musical child prodigy. Wizard enlists him and gives him the name "August Rush", convincing him that he will be sent back to the orphanage if his real name is ever discovered...

This movie provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: Most of the complaints about the film can be explained by this trope. The movie wouldn't be a Tear Jerker if it took six months of paperwork, 7 years for the kid to come of age, 5 years for him to be accepted into Julliard or longer for August and his parents to all reunite.
  • Adoption Is Not an Option: While Jeffries tells Lyla that Evan was probably adopted when she comes searching for him, the start of the film shows clearly he was living in a group home and no explanation is given for why he wasn't adopted. See Hollywood Law below.
  • Affably Evil: Wizard, who turns from being jovial and upbeat to intensely angry and cruel on a dime.
  • Anachronistic Orphanage: At the start of the film, Evan lives in a group home. This is treated as though it's an orphanage with the boys even talking about their parents "coming back for them." While group homes exist in Real Life, they're for kids who need a higher level of care, parents can't just drop their kid off at one, nor can they just "come back to get them" on a whim. Weirdly, even though the movie has a social worker as a secondary character, foster care is rarely mentioned.
  • The Artful Dodger: Arthur.
  • Artistic License – Music: Electric guitars without amps, a so-so composition that gets him into Julliard without the audition process, his sudden professional-grade skills at instruments and composition without any previous training. Generally the movie did not play well with musicians.
  • Big Applesauce: The majority of the movie takes place in New York City.
  • Band of Relatives: The Connelly Brothers.
  • Child Prodigy: August, though as noted, solidly in Artistic License – Music territory. (In Real Life, even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart spent a few years studying music theory before he wrote his first simple compositions, whereas August is apparently able to compose for full orchestra within a few hours of the first time he ever sees music notation. Uh-huh.)
  • Concert Climax: The film ends with Evan running away from Wizard to conduct his symphony in the park, Lyla being drawn to the stage because she somehow knows that's her son, and Louis chasing Lyla through the crowd because he was in the city and saw a sign advertising her as a featured musician for this concert in the park.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The resolution of the film is the result of coincidence upon coincidence piling together.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Julliard evidently brought a tuxedo for Evan to the concert on the off chance he actually showed up to conduct at the last minute.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Played with, mostly from the "overworked and underfunded" angle.
    • Wizard calls Mr. Jeffries out on this trope when he comes looking for Evan and several other missing children.
    • Julliard will evidently let any random man walk in off the street to come into a classroom and claim a student with no proof, and not give the student the chance to explain things privately nor involve the police.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: This poster.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The musician Louis and Lyla see in Washington Square is Wizard. He plays the guitar and harmonica, and later on Wizard tells Arthur that Washington Square was his spot for ten years.
  • Early Personality Signs: A shot of newborn Evan in the hospital nursery shows his hand waving to conduct the music in the room.
  • Evil Redhead: Wizard.
  • The Fagin: Wizard again
  • First Girl Wins: Louis is a good-looking guy and he had at least one girlfriend in the years after meeting Lyla, who was only a one-night fling.
  • Jerkass: The Wizard again.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: This kid just sort of... knows... Music Theory. To understand how realistic that is, simply click on that link, which would give you about a third of the grounding you'd need to actually write a symphony.
  • Helicopter Parents: Lyla's father forging adoption papers in order to keep Lyla on the path to success.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • Lyla's father presumably paid a lawyer a large sum of money in order to forge Lyla's signature on the adoption paperwork, but for a lawyer to go along with this plan would be highly unethical and could get them disbarred (not that such a thing is unknown, it just would be less likely).
    • It's unlikely that Evan, a healthy newborn, would be placed in a group home.
    • No explanation is given for how Evan was able to enroll at Julliard, despite having no apparent legal guardian to sign the paperwork, nor does the school make any attempts to see if he's a missing child or a ward of the state (he is both).
  • Innocent Prodigy: Evan
  • Lamarck Was Right: The title character is a musical prodigy whose parents were also talented musicians, although even Lamarck would probably say that the degree to which this movie takes it to is unrealistic.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: The titular protagonist's stage name is a fragment from the slogan on the side of a frozen foods truck.
  • Impractical Musical Instrument Skills: August picks up an electric guitar for the first time and immediately is able to play it with flashy hammer-ons and percussive drumming with his hands. And somehow it works without an amp.
  • Magic Realism: A pretty plausible reason for the movie's factual inaccuracies. Keri Russell described it as a fairytale.
  • Meaningful Echo: "11 years, (X) days. I counted." Also, August's Symphony echoes music from meaningful scenes throughout the movie.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Louis trying to find Lyla the first time.
  • Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Well, Arthur's going to get beat or killed, most of the friends August made along the way are the same or worse than they were before he came along, but hey, kid found his parents.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Averted, for the most part, though it's clear the Walden Home for Boys is not the most nurturing place to grow up in.
  • Parents Know Their Children: Lyla recognizes Evan's picture on a missing persons poster, despite never actually getting the chance to see him after he was born and this being over a decade later.
  • Race for Your Love: Louis does this twice. He's far more successful the second time around.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The kids "employed" by Wizard, though Arthur is the only one given much of any screen time.
  • Room Full of Crazy: A more pleasant use of the trope, Evan fills a room with scribbled music.
  • Sanity Slippage: It's possible that Wizard was a person who was slowly losing it due to rough childhood, poverty, and general disillusionment with the world. It's even possible to craft a possible backstory to him, given hints from the movie. Based on his rant to Jeffries about what child protective services "really does", it seems he has personal experience with that situation. Plus, the film seems to hint that he has been a street performer for a long time now, which doesn't pay well, and may have been why he took in all the other runaways in the first place, he may have genuinely believed they'd be better off with him than alone. Of course, it also appears even at his initial meeting, that he is a little unhinged, and the prospect of August being his "ticket to riches" (and then losing that prospect) just drove him deeper into madness until even Arthur (who seemed to think well of him at first) knows he needs to be stopped.
  • Serendipitous Symphony: A lot.
  • Setting Update: On Oliver Twist. The most obvious parallel is "Wizard = Fagin."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: This movie is about as far to the idealism end as Grave of the Fireflies is to the cynical end.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Lyla and Louis.
  • The Show Must Go On: Despite loss of their prodigy composer and conductor, Julliard evidently was still going to run the symphony without him and must have had a backup composer waiting.
  • Title Drop: By Wizard.
  • Trailers Always Lie: If one only looked at the promotional footage, that person would think Wizard was The Mentor or the Cool Old Guy, but that's not true at all.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Lyla's father is implied to be this way. His actions definitely lean towards this trope.
  • Your Son All Along: Louis and Evan play guitar together in the park without Louis knowing Evan is his son. He puts the pieces together after tracking Lyla down at Evan's concert.