Volume 93, Issue 36
Wednesday, November 3, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Streep carries Music through griping end
Gazette file photo
YES, HONEY, I'M SURE WILLIS JUST LOVES BEETHOVEN. Meryl Streep teaches the violin to underprivileged city kids in Music Of The Heart.
By Brad Lister
It's all about Meryl Streep. A director could ask for a simple reading of the phone book and Streep could deliver a virtuoso performance.
Wes Craven's new film, Music Of The Heart, is no different. This is a dramatic story which will have everyone weeping by the end. Departing completely from the horror genre, Craven does an admirable directorial job here.
This true-life tale stars Streep as East Harlem music teacher Roberta Guaspari. Guaspari is a happily married Navy wife who has two young boys. However, in a wonderfully executed transition, it's revealed not two minutes into the film that her husband has left her for another woman.
A weepy mess, Guaspari moves back in with her mother and tries to rebuild her life. At the suggestion of an old friend (Aidan Quinn), Guaspari goes to East Harlem to inquire about starting a music program in one of the schools. From there, the film establishes Roberta in the classroom and largely focuses on her trials and tribulations as a teacher.
Anyone who has seen enough of these types of films can expect all the standard clichés to take place. However, part of Music Of The Heart's appeal is its ability to entertain movie-goers during these contrived scenes. Kids, parents and administration all resist Guaspari at different times, but it's never boring.
Of further interest is the movie's progression beyond Guaspari's initial success. Flash forward 10 years and Guaspari is running a violin program so successful, there are three classes and a lottery must take place to decide who is allowed to take the course. In the midst of the cutback-laden '90s, Guaspari's class eventually becomes the first on the chopping block. Deciding she won't go down without a fight, Guaspari organizes a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall designed to ultimately save her program.
It sounds like a mixed bag, but what ultimately saves Music of the Heart from becoming too stereotypical is Streep's stellar performance. Her sheer force of will carries the film straight through to its weepy conclusion. The fact that Pamela Gray's script is not prize winning material doesn't matter, as the gifted actress turns every line into gold.
While Cloris Leachman and Angela Bassett offer up worthy supporting performances, it's obvious this film is for the die-hard Streep fan. One of the movie's main detriments is that none of the supporting actors can match Streep's peerless skill and energy. The result is an occasional sense of alienation it's as if no one can catch up to Streep and play off the energy she brings to the role.
All in all, Music Of The Heart is never boring and worth viewing if not solely for the beautiful concert scene set in Carnegie Hall.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999