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IN SHORT: Satisfying Streep. [Rated [PG-13], 130 minutes]
Inspired by the Academy Award nominated documentary Small Wonders by Allan Miller, based on the life story of Roberta Guaspari, who would write the book of the same title with Larkin Warren. As always, no comparison is made to the source material.
Cranky has got to get a better Thesaurus program, 'cuz the one he's got won't give him a suitable synonym for the word "inspiring," which you're going to see associated with the movie. A lot. Based upon the true story of Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), a Navy wife who has to build a life after her husband runs off with her best friend, Music of the Heart is an inspiring flick coming your way at the time of the year when "serious" films would rather bash you over the head with an emotional sledgehammer. There. I used the "i" word. Let's move on.
Thanks to the help of long time friend Brian Turner (Aidan Quinn), Roberta finds herself in the office of East Harlem elementary school principal Janet Williams (Angela Bassett) pitching the idea of giving violin lessons to the kidlets in this economically deprived community. Guaspari has the violins. She has the determination. She has absolutely no chance of making the sale . . . but she figures out a way to do it. It's the first baby step for a woman who has two kids to bring up, and a new life to forge.
Ten years later, after battling tenured teachers who don't want their routine interrupted, after seeing her program triple in size, the school board cuts the budget and shuts her down. It is only then that Guaspari learns who her true friends are among the school's elite, as she sets out to raise money to fund the program and keep it running in the East Harlem schools independent of the school board's budget.
As a story about Roberta Guaspari alone, well, Roberta's home life just doesn't strike me as interesting, compared to watching (Streep) teach. Yes, there are problems with the kids (played by Kieran Culkin and Charlie Hofheimer). Yes, there is the lack of a social life and a very interesting workaround to solve that problem. But little about the trials and tribulations of single parenthood is as involving as watching the kidlets go from disinterested youngsters to proud and proficient musicians. I enjoyed watching Music of the Heart, but I didn't feel as drawn into Guaspari's personal story as I did with, say, another actor playing another music teacher two or three years back.
I did get a kick out of watching the kidlets -- some of whom are students of the real life teacher -- show their enthusiasm for something that would normally have been way out of reach. The reactions of some kids who had to leave the program will break your heart. The beaming faces of those that make it to the end of the flick will make your inner child do a happy dance. ("inspire" is a better word, but I wasn't about to use it twice...)
Cloris Leachman, Jane Leeves and singer Gloria Estefan all hold support roles and real life players Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, Arnold Steinhardt and Mark O'Connor, among others, get to strut their stuff. And, no, I have not overlooked the fact that director Wes Craven is best known for scareflicks like Scream. In a year in which both David Mamet and David Lynch have directed [G] rated flicks, nothing would surprise me. Music of the Heart is a very pleasing flick. Both Craven and Streep have done good jobs.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Music of the Heart, he would have paid...
Dateflick level. Good Streep is better than just about anything else in the theaters. And if you feel like helping the program continue, give a call to Guaspari's Opus 118 Foundation at (212) 831-4455. They'll be glad to hear from you.
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