A sometimes clever, other times grating mix of live action and animation as the world of fairy-tale animation invades contemporary New York.
The film from director Kevin Lima, who has worked in both formats (the animated Tarzan and live-action 102 Dalmatians), has moments of hilarious inspiration. But the overwhelming default mode is youthful slapstick, so the movie may strain adults’ patience even as it tests the attention span of children with its 107-minute running time.
The film starts out in an animated world of 1930s Disney, the world of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, where a pretty young girl named Giselle (a buoyant Amy Adams) lives in a forest, chats with chirpy animals and sings songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz while awaiting ‘true love’s kiss.’ Prince Edward (James Marsden) delivers this kiss, just after rescuing Giselle from an ogre, and the two agree to wed the next day.
But the Prince’s wicked stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon, going full throttle), anxious not to lose her throne to this upstart, casts Giselle into a deep, deep well, thus banishing her to “a place where there is no happy ever after.” This turns out to be live-action Manhattan.
Popping through a manhole in Times Square, Giselle is utterly lost. She eventually comes under the protection of Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce attorney—no happy ever after indeed!—and his young daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey), who is delighted to have a princess in the household.
The animation invasion produces two amusing sequences. When Giselle summons her animal friends to clean up Robert’s high-rise apartment, what responds are New York wild life—flies, pigeons, rats and cockroaches, who cheerfully freshen up the place. Giselle embarrasses Robert by bursting into song in Central Park, but soon park workers, street musicians and the like join in until it looks like the reunion tour of the Village People.
Alas, slapstick takes over, and lame bits about poison apples and the stepmother turning into a cheesy dragon dominate the second half.
Magical realism meets a modern-day Oliver Twist.
It’s a tightrope act from the first frame, but Kirsten Sheridan in her second outing as a director—2001’s Disco Pigs was her first—infuses her film with rapturous music and imagery. The story is about musicians and how music connects people, so the movie’s score and songs, created by composers Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer, give poetic whimsy to an implausible tale.
August adopts the structure of Oliver Twist whereby an orphan runs away to New York and falls in with a Fagin-like character. Instead of a gang of young thieves, the Wizard (Robin Williams, doing his best with a poorly written role) operates a team of young musicians who live in an abandoned theater and play for money on street corners. Evan (Highmore), whom he renames August Rush, is a child prodigy whose skills reward him with a prime spot in Washington Square.
It is in Washington Square 11 years ago where Evan was conceived. In flashback, a young Irish guitarist-singer, Louis (Rhys Meyers), encounters a shy, young cellist, Lyla (Russell), on a rooftop overlooking the square. The two spend the night only to be torn apart by circumstances. When the pregnant Lyla is hit by a car and gives birth prematurely, her father (William Sadler), mindful of her career, gives the infant up for adoption but tells his daughter that her baby died.
A kind social worker (Terrence Howard) urges Evan into family placement, but the boy never gives up hope of finding his parents. He believes he can reach out to them through music, that they can “hear” each other.
Warner Bros. will rely on the cast to help sell this movie. Freddie Highmore again demonstrates he is one of the industry’s top child actors, while Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers continue to climb to stardom in roles that demand the utmost sensitivity. The film should attract a loyal following, but critics will be mixed.
P. S. I LOVE YOU
Tearjerkers about dead spouses who haunt loved ones seem to be all the rage.
In Grace Is Gone, a father and two daughters cope with the loss of Mom in Iraq. In Things We Lost in the Fire, a mother and two youngsters mourn the death of the husband and father. P.S. I Love You is the oddest of the bunch, though, because it feels like the late husband of Hilary Swank’s Holly Kennedy, a happy-go-lucky Irishman played engagingly by Gerard Butler, refuses to go away no matter how dead he is. Odder still, when we do see the couple together—in an opening scene and then in flashbacks—there is always so much tension between the two.
This bittersweet story about a bereaved young widow struggling to move on might connect with female audiences. Yet its box office should be modest despite the presence of two-time Oscar-winning Swank. The film, written (with Steven Rogers) and directed by Richard LaGravenese, is long and drags in places. But the chief problem is that P.S. feels like a gimmick.
The film starts awkwardly with a curious sequence in which Holly (Swank) and Gerry (Butler) quarrel about a remark he made over dinner with Holly’s highly judgmental mother (Kathy Bates). Then, with calculated abruptness, the movie plunks you down at Gerry’s wake in a Manhattan restaurant run by Holly’s mother.
A few weeks later, it’s her 30th birthday. A birthday cake and tape recording arrive—from Gerry! Seems while Gerry lay dying of a brain tumor, he concocted a scheme to send letters to Holly for the year following his death.
Nothing here outside the realm of plausibility, but how exactly are these constant communications from the dead supposed to ease Holly’s transition to her new life? They serve, for dramatic purposes, to remind her of their courtship and marriage. Just once you’d like to see her get annoyed at these messages from a dead spouse who won’t go away. But then she has her disapproving Mom to do that.