Music of the Heart

Directed by Wes Craven
Starring: Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Angela Bassett, Cloris Leachman, Jane Leeves, Gloria Estefan.
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language and sensuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 30, 1999

When Wes Craven saw the 1996 documentary Small Wonders, he wanted to make it into a dramatic film. As you probably know, Craven is the premier director of American horror films (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream). In fact, he has never strayed from the genre. Now he does a full 180 degree turn to making a "chick flick" with Meryl Streep.

Roberta Guaspari Demetras (Streep) is starting a new life after divorcing her unfaithful husband: a naval officer named Charles. She now has to support two sons on her own, so she takes a job as a gift wrapper. Her old friend Brian Sinclair (Aidan Quinn) sees her wasting her training as a music teacher, which she hasn't had much of an opportunity to use during her nomadic, navy wife lifestyle. He refers her to Janet Williams (Angela Bassett), who runs an "alternative" public elementary school in East Harlem.

She is hired as a substitute, teaching inner-city kids to play the violin. Of course, the experience has a positive impact on the children, and the program is a success. Ten years later, she is teaching violin to kids from three schools in the district, and it is so popular that there is a lottery to get enrolled. Despite this popularity, the district now is forced to make budget cuts, and extra music programs have to go. Roberta meets photographer Dorothea Van Hauften (Jane Leeves), who comes up with a way to raise money for the program: get her husband, violinist Arnold Steinhardt, and his famous friends to put on a benefit concert. Roberta has six weeks to get all of her students ready for performing with Steinhardt, Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, and several other luminaries (who all play themselves) at Carnegie Hall.

The original documentary shows this actual concert, and all the preparation that went into it. Whether this story needed to be dramatized is highly debatable. Despite the usually stunning performance by Streep, this film merely plays as a sentimental Mr. Holland N the Hood. There is nothing here that you haven't already seen, and done much better in Stand and Deliver. This film certainly has a good message about the importance of music education, but it's just not told with enough skill to make it a worthwhile feature film.

The scenes with Quinn are probably the best, but they are too short, and very few and far between. We see a romance start to develop and quickly fade away, which is probably how it happened in real life, but it's not very compelling for a feature film. There are a lot of children, and a few of them are focused on, but their stories are all-too-familiar. I really would have wanted to like this film more, but it just didn't give a good enough reason to care.

I wouldn't be surprised if Craven went right back to horror; I think he should. After crap like Bats and The House on Haunted Hill (not to mention Teaching Mrs. Tingle, in which Kevin Williamson totally ripped Craven off), we could use a little more quality. Unfortunately, I don't think Scream 3 is going to provide that. I mean, enough already!


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Music of the Heart (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Music of the Heart (1999) -- VHS
Music of the Heart (1999) -- DVD
Music of the Heart: The Roberta Guaspari Story, by Roberta Guaspari and Larkin Warren -- Paperback
Music of the Heart: The Album -- Compact Disc


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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan