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Music of the Heart (Movie 1999): Luminous Meryl Streep

Music of the Heart movie Meryl StreepMusic of the Heart movie with Meryl Streep: As East Harlem’s Central Park East School violin teacher Roberta Guaspari, the two-time Oscar winner delivers a gutsy star turn in Wes Craven’s otherwise anemic drama.
  • Music of the Heart (movie 1999) review: As a forceful, determined, and wee bit volatile violin teacher, Meryl Streep singlehandedly rescues Wes Craven’s real-life-inspired & unusually gore-free drama from the deadly pits of Hollywood treacle.
  • Music of the Heart received two Academy Award nominations: Best Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Original Song (“Music of My Heart,” by Diane Warren).

Music of the Heart (movie 1999) review: Gore-free Wes Craven drama works solely as showcase for violin teacher Meryl Streep

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

The director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and the Scream franchise, Wes Craven is hardly the kind of filmmaker from whom one would have expected a syrupy motion picture about a tenacious violin teacher who wins the hearts and minds of her inner-city school students. Yet Craven is the individual largely responsible – along with screenwriter Pamela Gray – for Music of the Heart, a 1999 Miramax release devoid of slashed faces, lethal stabbings, and deadly fingernails.

In place of protracted gore, this distaff version of Mr. Holland’s Opus – with a touch of To Sir with Love[1] – offers loads of sentiment, some classical music (violinists Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and Mark O’Connor appear as themselves), plenty of lousy pop tunes, and a fantastic, goo-averse central performance.

The star turn in question comes courtesy of Meryl Streep, playing real-life music teacher Roberta Guaspari,[2] doggedly dedicated to keeping the classical arts in New York City’s public school curriculum.

Meryl Streep battles Our Gang & pop tunes

There is much to carp about Music of the Heart, from its squandering the talent of Best Actress Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with It, 1993) to the overabundance of obnoxious pop rhythms in a film that extols the immeasurable worth of classical music. Even so, when Meryl Streep is on screen, nothing else matters.

Not the cornball sequence in which Guaspari must audition for a teaching job at East Harlem’s Central Park East School; not the fact that the youths in her rough neighborhood are as menacing as the Our Gang kids; not even the miscalculation (in terms of dramatic coherence) of having a much too sympathetic actress portray a character who could at best be described as “challenging.”

In fact, Streep’s Guaspari is so eccentrically likable that when her students complain to their parents about her rudeness, they come across as whiny little wimps.

Hackneyed star vehicle

A master at conveying thoughts and emotions by means of a surreptitious look or a slight variation in her tone, Meryl Streep singlehandedly holds together Music of the Heart.

Aidan Quinn provides solid support in his few on-screen moments while Cloris Leachman (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for The Last Picture Show, 1971) is always a welcome presence, but the movie truly belongs to its star.

The multiple award-winning/-nominated actress – Streep received her 12th Oscar nod for Music of the Heart[3] – makes every intonation, every action, every reaction seem both effortless and natural, invariably delivering her well-rehearsed lines as if they had just popped in her head. The mechanics of her acting technique are surely there, but they work like invisible strings, each time placing her right on the mark.

Wes Craven clearly realized that Streep – à la Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street – embodies the very core of his film. Thus, his camera lingers on the actress, allowing her to take charge of nearly every scene.

Very few performers could have managed to carry a hackneyed star vehicle like Music of the Heart for more than two hours. But Meryl Streep can – and does.

Music of the Heart (movie 1999) cast & crew

Director: Wes Craven.

Screenplay: Pamela Gray.

Cast: Meryl Streep. Angela Bassett. Aidan Quinn. Cloris Leachman. Gloria Estefan. Kieran Culkin. Charlie Hofheimer. Michael Angarano. Jay O. Sanders.
Cameos: Isaac Stern. Itzhak Perlman. Mark O’Connor. Joshua Bell.

Music of the Heart (Movie 1999) Review” notes

Mr. Holland’s Opus & To Sir with Love

[1] Richard Dreyfuss stars as a composer/high-school music teacher in Stephen Herek’s 1995 sleeper hit Mr. Holland’s Opus.

Sidney Poitier stars as a black teacher from British Guyana taming white East End London students in James Clavell’s 1967 hit To Sir with Love.

Oscar-nominated Roberta Guaspari documentary

[2] The same year Richard Dreyfuss was shortlisted in the Best Actor Oscar category for Mr. Holland’s Opus, Allan Miller’s Miramax-released documentary feature Small Wonders, centered on Roberta Guaspari’s East Harlem efforts and the climactic Carnegie Hall concert, was also in contention.

Small Wonders lost to Jon Blair’s Anne Frank Remembered.

Meryl Streep Oscar wins

[3] Meryl Streep is a two-time Oscar winner: Best Supporting Actress for Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer (1979); Best Actress for Alan J. Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice (1982).

Meryl Streep Music of the Heart movie image: Kerry Hayes | Miramax.

Music of the Heart (Movie 1999): Luminous Meryl Streep” last updated in April 2023.

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