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With: Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Aidan Quinn, Cloris Leachman, Gloria Estefan, Jane Leeves, Kieran Culkin
Written by: Pamela Gray
Directed by: Wes Craven
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language and sensuality
Running Time: 124
Date: 09/06/1999

Music of the Heart (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

From Violence to Violins

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's sad that the great Wes Craven, who has made a name for himself as a giantof horror films, Last House on the Left (1972), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984),Scream (1996), feels the need to go "legit." It's not his fault; the moviebusiness has never respected the horror genre. However, I was hoping he wouldbring some of his experience and expertise with creative scene set-ups and strongmood to Music of the Heart, which tells the true story of Roberta Guaspari(Meryl Streep) and her successful program to teach violin in East Harlem schools.

Co-starring Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan, and Angela Bassett (in very small parts) this movie is a worthy subject that may as well have been made by an amateur. This is mostly the fault of the screenplay by Pamela Gray (based on Allan Miller's 1996 Oscar-winning documentary Small Wonders), which presents every moment as phony and surface. Meryl Streep does as well as she can with this material. But in 130 minutes, we're never given anything but charicatures of these real people. This is especially evident in the tough inner city kids, who are the subject of the movie and feel very much as if they are written and played from a middle-class white point of view. Even the final "triumphant" moment -- the concert in Carnegie Hall with Itzhak Perlman and other greats -- is shot like a bad PBS special, complete with dissolves to the enraptured audience.

Adding insult to injury the movie features several horrible lite-rock elevator pop songs, when it obviously could have used violin music instead. In the end, Music of the Heart plays like a preachy after-school special.

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