The true story of Roberta Guaspari, a music teacher who developed a program that helped thousands of Harlem children learn the violin.
Music of the Heart (1999)
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Pamela Gray
Starring Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Aidan Quinn,
Cloris Leachman, Jane Leeves, Gloria Estefan
Based on the 1995 documentary Small Wonders
Oscar Nominations - Best Actress (Meryl Streep),
Best Original Song (Music Of My Heart)
In the span of his nearly forty year career, Wes Craven directed one movie that wasn't a horror film. It was 1999's Music of the Heart, a deeply heartfelt and moving biopic of a woman who helped thousands of Harlem children find their passion for music. Roberta Guaspari's story may not be entirely cinematic, but it's a story worth knowing about. With this film, Craven showed his ability to dabble outside of horror, and I really wish he'd done it more. I was ready to write this off as another "white savior" movie, but it's so much more than that. It's a story about finding your own voice and being proud of something. I think we can all relate to that on some level.
After her husband runs off with her best friend, Roberta (Streep) is inconsolable. Her mother (Leachman) forces her to get a job, and through a meeting with an old friend, Roberta becomes a substitute music teacher at an inner city school. She quickly earns her students' respect and teaches them how to expertly play the violin, turning her small class into a multi-school program over ten years. But when the board axes the budget and she loses the program, she, along with her past and present students and famous musicians who want to help, forms a benefit concert to raise the money to save the program. It's surprisingly engaging the entire time thanks to Craven's direction and Streep's dedicated performance.
Music of the Heart keeps you invested throughout this fairly by-the-numbers story. It's a movie about little people doing big things and influencing thousands of lives through good deeds and respect. As I said, I wish Craven had done more films outside his wheelhouse. He certainly had the talent for it.