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  Music of the Heart Gratuitous Violins
Year: 1999
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Angela Bassett, Cloris Leachman, Gloria Estefan, Jane Leeves, Josh Pais, Jay O. Sanders, Henry Dinhofer, Michael Angarano, Charlie Hofheimer, Kieran Culkin, Rosalyn Coleman, Betsy Aidem, Adam LeFevre
Genre: Biopic, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep) has had a rough time of it recently, having been dumped by her husband for one of her friends and leaving her to look after her two sons, Lexi (Henry Dinhofer) and Nick (Michael Angarano), not easy when she cannot get a decent job. But then she has a brainwave, as she is a violin teacher who has tutored her boys to play to a very high standard, so if she can do that for them, how about helping others? She secures an interview with Principal Janet Williams (Angela Bassett), but her qualifications are lacking and she is turned away politely but firmly, so things begin to look bleak once again, that is until she is inspired to bring her sons in to demonstrate how well she has coached them. Williams thinks she may have a point...

When the Scream franchise was at its height, packing out cinemas and flying off the video shelves across the world, its director Wes Craven had a demand. Sure, he would helm Scream 3, but there was a condition, and that was to direct the story of violin teacher Roberta Guaspari, which was so far out of his usual territory that it still takes viewers aback to this day when they see his name pop up in the opening credits. Craven had been a tutor himself, so this tale of one such guiding individual inspiring their students was obviously something he could connect with, but as it was it didn't especially connect with the paying audience, not like his most successful horrors did, and in spite of an Oscar nomination for Streep it kind of slipped below the radar.

What this did mean was that for a particular part of the audience, word of mouth was more effective than advertising, and Music of the Heart went on to enjoy a loyal following from those who wouldn’t normally dream of watching a Craven effort, not on blockbuster levels but a small, devoted group nonetheless. It wasn’t uncommon, however, to see it described as rather basic TV movie business that somehow had lucked into securing an A-list star to lead it, mainly because that’s how it came across, with very little objectionable about it, and so adhering to the pattern of wonderful teacher plots that there was nothing to surprise - even the supposed shocks were cosy and familiar because you knew they would be resolved.

Well, there were a few objections to what it had done with Guasparo's story, mainly the Hollywoodisation of the true story with additions you could spot having been crowbarred in a mile away. Witness the scene when Roberta has been doing well with her classes and a mother approaches her to tell her she won't be letting her son participate anymore because the classes are far too white for his black self, which is kind of ridiculous since you imagine learning a skill, an artistic skill at that, would delight the parents of most children; naturally, this mother is won over completely by the end. And the other music teacher is painted to be so obnoxious that he's patently a straw man for our heroine to rail against occasionally.

In actuality, everyone was very supportive at the school, and the film appears to reach its denouement about halfway through once Roberta has succeeded in putting on a concert for the parents that goes down a storm, but wait, there’s more. We jump to ten years later, when she has dumped the no good men in her life (or man, played by Aidan Quinn, whose main crime is not fixing up her house without snarky comments about the assistance she has hired), and her courses are going swimmingly, but wouldn't you know it, the funding is cut and they have to put on a benefit concert to rescue the situation. This provides the excuse to witness a gathering of famous violinists offer their support both in the film and in real life, but again the drama is routine which leaves a pleasant enough but hardly vital film, no matter Streep's accustomed professionalism. That said, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to see the positive message Craven was putting across, so you didn't especially take umbrage when it all went exactly as you'd expect. Music by Mason Daring.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Wes Craven  (1939 - )

Intelligent American director, producer and writer, at his most effective when, perhaps paradoxically, he was at his most thoughtful. Controversial shocker Last House on the Left set him on a path of horror movies, the best of which are The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare and Scream (which revitalised the slasher genre).

Less impressive are Deadly Blessing, Swamp Thing, the ridiculous Hills Have Eyes Part II, Deadly Friend, Shocker, Vampire in Brooklyn, Cursed and the successful Scream sequels (the last of which was his final movie). Music of the Heart was a change of pace for Craven, but not a hit, though aeroplane thriller Red Eye was a successful attempt at something different; My Soul To Take, an attempt at more of the same, flopped. One of the pioneers of the American new wave of horror of the 1970s and 80s, he brought a true edge, wit and imagination to the genre.

 
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