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Monday, 25 June 2018

Retro Review: Music of the Heart (1999)

Music of the Heart
1999
Cast: Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Angela Bassett, Gloria Estefan, Jane Leeves, Kieran Culkin
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office: over £14 million

Plot: Story of a schoolteacher's struggle to teach violin to inner-city Harlem kids





'One-Note Tame Affair, Despite Streep's Valiant Turn'

More Mr Holland's Opus than Dangerous Minds, Music of the Heart is another in the long line of inspirational teachers going to a new school and changing things for the better -type of movie, you know the drill. It is one you have seen millions of time over: Dead Poets Society, Mona Lisa Smile, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, To Sir With love, the list goes on. Interestingly enough also, it is directed by Wes Craven - director of horror movies such as the Nightmare on Elm Street series and Scream, whose decision to go outside of his comfort zone and experiment with something new and different, is a surprise. Yet that decision has not quite paid off to its fullest as Music of the Heart is too vanilla in its direction that doesn't offer much in the way of entertainment, yet the second half is a little better and Meryl Streep adapts to the role with ease.

Based on a true story, the film begins in 1980: Roberta Guaspari is a trained violinist and single mother of 2 after her husband runs off with another woman, who in this case is her best friend. In need of work, Roberta packs her kids to move to an impoverished area in Harlem in the hopes of teaching violin. She lands a job in an inner-city school, led by principal Williams and she ends up teaching a set of kids. 

What makes Music of the Heart a tad different from those films is it sort of came and went without much fanfare, hype and attention. Watching this, I could see why. Even though it has Meryl Streep in it despite initially being the first choice with Madonna lined up in the starring role, she did well. Her character was strong and her performance was somewhat strong and fitting. But with the movie, with kids in place of rebellious rowdy, bad attitude teens means it doesn't have that edge and potency to elevate it further, even though it is based on real events; I mean it's uplifting and sort of nice, but it is uninspired and a tad boring in places too.  

I liked the second half of the film a little more than I did with the first half and I wasn't keen on Aidan Quinn's underwritten character who woos Roberta, only to take off without her. The relationship subplot with Roberta was bland and felt like it was just thrown in for good measure. I also would have liked to have seen one of the kids' family situations delved into a little more deeply and the male characters weren't portrayed sympathetically, or be it more specifically, Aidan Quinn's character. 

Charlie Hofheimer, who was in the Robin Williams and Billy Crystal comedy, Fathers' Day, is much at ease here as one of Roberta's sons, in contrast to the 1997 movie where his character was an anonymity, alongside Kieran Culkin. Other familiar faces include pop singer, Gloria Estefan, Jane Leeves of FrasierHot in Cleveland, who adopts a very strange accent and What's Love Got To Do With It's Angela Bassett. Despite her appearance on the front cover, Estefan only appears briefly, with Bassett reuniting with Wes Craven for the second time, after the financial flop that is Vampire in Brooklyn starring Eddie Murphy. 

I noticed several Asian kids from the class took up violin lessons, and there is that stereotype of Asians who practice and play the violin so well, but I'm sure this wasn't deliberate or intentional. Wes Craven goes about it in a straightforward manner, but for a few other scenes, it just didn't make for a great movie. 

The heart aspect of Music of The Heart, however, just didn't come through; I never felt it and it just didn't make the type of impact that a drama, or be it so-called inspirational-based drama should do. Though Meryl Streep earned her 12th nomination for this movie, the film itself didn't. And yet here, there just wasn't enough substance to carry it all the way through. 

For a director known for twists, shocks and surprises in most of his other films, Wes Craven played the story too safe and thus, making it a stalemate.




Final Verdict:

As earnest as it is in its intentions, the story just wasn't incredible as a spectacle and movie for me to fully get behind. The resistance and the sheer obstacles that Roberta faces are rather meagre and but for one or two instances, they just don't hold much weight. 


Add to that, there is little in the way of character development, as the writer, Pamela Gray centres on Streep, exclusively, and less so on the other cast members, yet with Hoffheimer he wasn't bad.


Watch for Meryl Streep's performance, but otherwise, along with very little characterisation & a one-note direction, there is not so much else to recommend, sadly.



Overall: 


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