There's Always Room For Cello:
Movies About Cello Players That Hit Home
Films often employ music to help deliver their message, and some even train on a particular instrument. But perhaps no instrument has been so enshrined in film as a character in its own right as the cello.
It could be, as these films seem to attest, because of how its human-like size and sound translates so naturally from the speakers to the screen. Whatever the reason, the rich cinematic virtues of the cello take on an eclectic array of melodies and tones in these equally diverse and distinctive movies.
Whether in their forefront or just the background, in each film listed below, the cello plays an instrumental role.
Genre(s): Drama, Adventure, Music & Musical
Director: Kirsten Sheridan
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, William Sadler
A fantasy of the heart and spirit taking place on the streets of New York, this film follows the Odyssean quest of a young musical prodigy, Evan, who's separated from his parents and then uses his talent to try to reunite with them.
While we're throwing references around, it's fair to say this film also has a little bit of a Dickensian "Oliver Twist"-like aspect to it too, as he lands himself in the hands of an unscrupulous miscreant who recognizes the boy's talent for its profit potential.
Little does the newly minted "August Rush" realize, however, that his parents are looking for him as well. Both of the boy's parents are also musicians, the mother playing the cello.
Stream August Rush on Hoopla.
Genre(s): Drama, Music & Musical
Director: Yojiro Takita
Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryôko Hirosue
A cellist gets let go from the orchestra in which he plays and retreats to his hometown to lick his wounds and rebuild a life. In that effort, he applies for a job he thinks is as a travel agent but turns out to be as an undertaker's assistant.
While reluctant to enter such a morbid and morose seeming profession, he seems to find in the new role many of the answers he'd been unwittingly seeking.
While the cello may not figure as heavily in this film as it does in some of the others on this list, the film conveys how the commitment and musicality a musician brings to his craft can also bring passion and joy to work and life. Plus, the film is backed by a rich orchestral score centered on the cello.
Stream Departures on Tubi TV.
Genre(s): Drama, Biography, Music & Musical
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander
A disaffected Los Angeles newspaper journalist stumbles onto a homeless musical savant and tries to help him, whether the man wants it or not.
An emotionally exhilarating film about music's redemptive power, it's based on the true story of homeless, schizophrenic musician Nathanial Ayers and the book by the real journalist depicted in the film, "The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music" by Steve Lopez.
The cello figures heavily in this film as both the instrument the titular soloist started out with as a young prodigy before his mental illness manifested and the "instrument" of the journalist's efforts to "save" him - and, in so doing, perhaps save himself.
Stream The Soloist on Hulu, The Roku Channel, Sling TV, Starz.
Genre(s): Drama, Music & Musical
Director: Yaron Zilberman
Starring: Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ivanir, Catherine Keener
Like a sonata comprising several distinct yet connected parts, this film chronicles the efforts of a world-famous string quartet to continue playing together through a succession of challenging "movements" on themes of death, irrepressible lust, and egotism.
Specifically, after a successful string of 25 years playing together, one of their number, the cellist, announces his retirement due to a developing illness. This triggers a barrage of reactions, not all of them pretty, from the other players and members of their families.
Throughout, plays the quartet's signatures piece, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, opus 131
Stream A Late Quartet on Apple TV, Vix.
Genre(s): Drama, Music & Musical
Director: Frank Whaley
Starring: Leighton Meester, Debra Messing, Billie Joe Armstrong
The concept is simple: a struggling musician takes on guardianship of a 12-year-old cello prodigy for the summer. But, like in so many songs, a simple thread can develop into an entire tapestry of sound and story, which is exactly what happens here.
The true backbone of this film is the interplay between this unlikely duet of a sheltered rich kid and a scattered, underachieving young woman, both with music at their cores.
Stream Like Sunday, Like Rain on Vudu, Tubi TV, Plex, Freevee.
Genre(s): Documentary, Music & Musical
Director: Morgan Neville
Starring: Yo-Yo Ma, Kinan Azmeh, Kayhan Kalhor, Cristina Pato, Man Wu, Jonathan Gandelsman
Perhaps one of the greatest and most well-known cellists alive, Yo-Yo Ma has performed all over the world and collaborated with musicians famous and unknown in a wide variety of genres besides classical.
This has brought him into the homes and hearts of people who may never have even considered appreciating orchestral music before.
This film presents a profile of this gifted cellist and human being as he tours the world performing with his Silk Road Ensemble. As you'd expect, the film is filled with some exquisite music, including many excerpts of live performances.
Along the way, you'll also discover a thing or two about how art can, at once, preserve tradition and influence, inform and impact cultural revolution.
Stream The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble on The Roku Channel, Vudu, Tubi TV, Kanopy, Plex.
Genre(s): Horror, Mystery, Thriller, Drama, Music & Musical
Director: Richard Shepard
Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman
Just like all songs are not sweet and sonorous, not all movies about music are heartwarming and inspired. Here's one that's downright chilling, involving an unlikely friendship that develops between two young musicians: a troubled prodigy who abandoned her gift to care for a dying parent and her former school's current star student.
The film delivers a crescendo of shock and suspense, and the cello plays the part of a consistent leitmotif throughout the film until reaching its own unexpected climax in its final frames.
Stream The Perfection on Netflix.
As this diverse list of films shows, just like the cello provides musicians and music appreciators a bounty of sounds, styles and moods to explore, so too does it offer filmmakers the opportunity to tell a myriad of stories carried by its own captivating music.