Film Review: Music of the Heart (1999)


Few directors are associated with single genre as closely as Wes Craven was with horror. Yet, like so many film makers, he felt the need to prove himself by directing something completely different. One such effort was his 1999 drama Music of the Heart.

The film is based on real events that took place in New York City years earlier. Protagonist is Roberta Guaspari (played by Meryl Streep), woman who spent many years faithfully following her husband, US Navy officer, from base to base. When he leaves her and two sons over another woman she finds herself in difficult financial situation. Chance encounter with old school friend Brian Turner (played by Aidan Quinn) offers opportunity to make ends meet. He remembers how Guaspari used to be a talented violinist so he suggests that she applies for position of music teacher in city’s school system. She accepts but the only free spot happens to be in Harlem, in primary school attended by children mostly from impoverished or troubled families, unlikely to be attracted to violins, which are Guaspari’s specialty. She nevertheless bravely takes the challenge and slowly but effectively teaches the pupils her skills. A decade later her program is so popular that children are accepted to her class by lottery. However, even that isn’t enough for school bureaucracy to terminate it over lack of proper funds. Guaspari doesn’t accept defeat and gets an idea to get necessary funds by staging spectacular fundraising concert featuring her pupils.

Story of Robert Guaspari was covered in 1995 documentary Small Wonders, which was nominated for Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The same film also served as basis for script by Pamela Gray. The plot, which looks like it could have been covered with relatively small and unambitious television film is here given almost the epic treatment, probably due to calculations by Miramax, studio behind it, that Music of the Heart with its heart-warming story featuring adorable children and based around performance of Meryl Streep might have good chances during awards seasons. Such calculations weren’t unsound, because Streep indeed got an Oscar nomination. Craven as director handled material competently, not adding anything of his personal touch. In order to stick to the facts as much as possible, large portions of the film are dedicated to the financial and romantic issues facing the protagonist, which, in turn gives this film an excessive length of almost two hours. Streep, on the other hand, gives another dependable performance but less impressive than many child actors playing Guaspari’s pupils. Craven, for his part, didn’t allow that predictable happy ending sink into too much corniness or sentimentality. As a result, Music of the Heart is entertaining film that could be recommended even to the audiences that aren’t big fans of Wes Craven or classical music.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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