The special fun of this movie is watching a teacher pull children into that beautiful world when they are young and receptive.
It's a tough assignment to make a family movie with a message that doesn't feel as if it has been dipped in sugar. Music of the Heart has been dipped, no doubt there, but it works anyway because of some good acting, cute kids, and the uplifting fact that it is a true story.
Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), newly abandoned by her husband, now a single mom of two boys, wallows for a few minutes in self-pity before her wise, but snappish, mother, Assunta (Cloris Leachman), goads her into rebuilding her life. Roberta needs to earn a living. She is a violin teacher short on experience, but blessed with a good blend of the toughness and tenderness needed to draw children into serious music.
Given a contact by old friend Brian Sinclair (Aidan Quinn), Roberta follows the job lead to the principal's office in an East Harlem school. Talking her way into a one-year temp position, Roberta starts to work with a ragtag group of students, who turn out to be the first of a thousand who pass through her classroom and leave with the gift of music.
With the traditional wisdom of boards of education, her program is cut, and Roberta is fired-after ten years of temping. Just before the big concert, they lose the hall. In a neat streak of good luck that actually happened in real life, they end up playing in Carnegie Hall with Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt, and a host of fine other musicians, many of them former students.
There are few stories as rewarding as that of the dedicated teacher who nurtures students against great odds, and Meryl Streep does well as Roberta by creating an original character who develops the confidence to handle whatever is thrown to her by students, parents, or teachers. Her Roberta is crusty-like her mother. Dowdy and devoid of vanity as the passionate teacher, Ms. Streep left glamour at the dressing-room door this time.
Angela Bassett is excellent as the tough principal who ultimately supports the music program. Aidan Quinn is adequate as the sometime suitor unwilling to commit to one woman, but he seems to be a genuine nonessential in the cast. The movie overflows, a bit too much, with beautiful children, beautiful parents, and cliches like the rival music teacher who cannot bear Roberta's success. Pamela Gray's script is somewhat dull and repetitive.
But why quibble. This is an inspirational true story that carries great messages for young people about not giving up, responding to opportunity, and finding a passion. What really does pierce the heart as we watch these children learn to play is the certainty that all over America bureaucratic school boards head first for the arts when they need to cut their budgets, depriving millions of students of the universal language of music. The special fun of this movie is watching a teacher pull children into that beautiful world when they are young and receptive.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Miramax
Rating : PG
Running time : 2h4m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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