Movies: Musical Prodigy Double Feature
Movies about youngsters with musical talent are a dime a dozen. Whether it's the von Trapps discovering that their father's whistling system has given them perfect pitch, or Ralph Macchio playing in a guitar duel to save his soul from the Devil, countless films have shown that the power of music is amplified by the idyll of youth. Here are two movies based around that theme, with the added spice of the parent-child relationship and the wiles of the big city thrown in:
Striking the right balance between whimsy and realism is tough for a lot of feel-good flicks. After all, the point of a fairytale is that it can't happen in real life...but it's tough to relate to a movie that has no basis in reality. "August Rush," a film directed by Kirsten Sheridan, tries to walk that tightrope, but ultimately fails.
In the film, a boy named Evan (played by Freddie Highmore) runs away from the orphanage in search of his parents. While in the urban jungle of Manhattan, Evan discovers he has a preternatural talent for music. A series of "Oliver Twist"-ish events ensues, and, if you can't guess that there's eventually a happy ending, you haven't been watching enough movies.
Which brings us to the main problem with "August Rush" - it's boring. The plot is so disconnected from reality, with so many coincidences and unlikely events (Evan learns how to read and compose orchestral music in a day? Really?), that it sucks all the drama out of the production. It's unfortunate, because there's a stellar cast (including Robin Williams and Terrence Howard in fairly substantial supporting roles), but I guess sometimes you can make your musical prodigy a little too prodigious.
The bond between father and son is strong in all cultures, and it's particularly important in rural China. "Together," a film by Chen Kaige ("The Emperor and the Assassin"), explores what happens to that bond when a poor widower takes his violin-virtuoso son to Beijing:
The violin performance scenes look great in this one because the son is played by Tang Yun, a real-life violinist. Of course, Yun's not as convincing as a real actor would be, but the rest of the cast picks up the slack nicely. And, if the kid can do this, who cares if he can act?