Oscar Movies: Music of the Heart–Biopic Starring Meryl Streep

Director Wes Craven, best known for his horror films, such as Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street, surprised critics (and probably himself), when he made a change of pace with this inspirational but conventional melodrama a teacher who helps change the lives of her students.

Meryl Streep (relacing of all people Madonna!) plays real-life Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras, a determined woman who teaches at an elementary school in Harlem, where discipline takes more time and effort than instruction or the arts.

Roberta, in the tradition of most heroic screen protagonists, firmly believes that studying music will give the children a sense of purpose, liberal arts education, and yearning to learn more about other subjects.

To prove that she must first overcome many obstacles, social, economic, and others. Facing indifference from the school administration and severe budget cuts forces Roberta to look elsewhere for the necessary funding.

Roberta struggles to teach the violin to her students, instilling a love of classical music in kids who would otherwise have never even heard about Bach or Mozart. Ultimately, the efforts of all concerned pay off and the saga leads to a climactic student recital at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York.

Streep, who must have been available to replace Madonna, is decent but no more. The supporting cast includes Angela Bassett, Cloris Leachman, and Aidan Quinn. Virtuoso violinists Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and Mark O’Connor appear as themselves.

Though “The Music of the Heart” is based on a true story–the real Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras and her students can be seen in the documentary “Small Wonders”—the narrative is so simplistic and cliché that it feels familiar from other pictures; noble and inspirational tales often look and feel the same.

Meryl Streep received yet another Best Actress Oscar nomination due to the fact that it was a weak year for female performances, and Miramax conducted yet another effective Oscar campaign on her behalf.

The movie overextends its welcome by at least 20 minutes or so. As director, Craven, so skillful in the horror genre, shows no particular penchant for helming melodramatic biopics. As a result, “The Music of the Heart” is too conventional even by standards of mainstream Hollywood, unfolding as a well acted TV-Movie of the Week.

Running time: 123 Minutes.
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Pamela Gray