50 Violins
Music of the Heart
Review by Ross Anthony

Based on the real life of Music teacher Roberta Guaspari and, surprisingly, directed by horror notable Wes Craven, "Music of the Heart" is an inspirational story that finds its harmonies not without their share of dissonant notes.

Her husband out of the picture, house-mom Roberta moves to the inner city to teach violin at the local elementary school. Burdened at first by the troubles plaguing inner city kids and then later by budget cuts, Roberta struggles to keep her violin class and family (two young boys) in tune.

Streep's portrayal of Guaspari is loving, yet refreshingly harsh, "That was terrible! You're going to make your parents vomit if you don't practice." The movie has just enough sappy moments already, an angelic teacher would have made its own audience vomit. Though I like Angela Basset, her performance as the beautiful hard-nailed principal is (as Guaspari would say) terrible. As it turns out, her screen time is minimal. While Quinn is wonderful as the love interest, this film is clearly all about Streep as Roberta with the kids and the violins. Of course, Streep is supreme. Also, Cloris Leachman (as her nagging mother) deserves praise. Delivering rather plainly a total of no more than ten lines, Gloria Estefan's presence (the supportive colleague) is not much more than a cameo. Both pairs of actors playing Roberta's two sons (the film jumps to a "ten years later" second half) do a fine job and are extremely well cast.

Contrived moments seemingly meant to add drama to the picture actually subtract. For instance, Streep, originally declined a position by Bassett, returns to the principal's office to show off how well she's taught violin to her two sons. This is on the sticky edge of excessive sap; but not yet over it. What should have been a rich scene is lessened by the fact that the current burnt-out music teacher just happens to be in the office. The violin playing is followed immediately by the near cliché, "Can't expect too much from these kids" debate.

On the other hand, half of the 150 violin students appearing in the film are or were actual students of the real life Guaspari. And seven of the non-violin-playing child actors took lessons from her in preparation for their roles.

In the end, living up to it's name, the picture has a lot of heart. If you could score an excellent film like "Stand and Deliver" for violin blending in the dissonant overtones of a less-than-excellent one like "Gloria," the resulting performance would be "Music of the Heart."

  • Music of the Heart. Copyright © 1999. Rated PG.
  • Starring Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan and Angela Bassett.
  • Directed by Wes Craven.
  • Screenplay by Pamela Gray.
  • Produced by Marianne Maddalena at Craven/Maddalena/Miramax.


Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:03:57 PDT