musiclogoThe Film: Music of the Heart (1999)

The Principles:
Written by Pamela Gray
Directed by Wes Craven
Acted by Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Michael Angarano

The Premise: Wes Craven presents the touching true story of music teacher Roberta Guaspari who fought for teaching Harlem kids.

Is It Good?: No. Eventually, we’ll get to talk about both Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but before we get to that we’ll need to tackle this little, mostly forgotten monstrosity first. While Wes Craven had made himself a name as one of horror’s most beloved directors, a master of slashers, nightmares, and voodooo terror, he had always toyed with the idea of directing a sweet, life-affirming movie for a change. So he made Shocker, the critically acclaimed story of a misguided soul reconnecting with his long lost son, the future director of film classic Battleship. Sadly, the Academy somehow chose to ignore his first attempt at glory, so Craven tried once again. And this time, he really went all-in. He chose to tell the Oscar bait story of a hard working white mother of two who uplifts poor non-white kids’ lives with the magic of white people’s classical music. He cast the Academy’s favorite Meryl Streep, had Diane Warren (seven Academy Award nominations) compose music for it, and added both Angela Bassett and queen of latin music Gloria Estefan in colorful (get it?) supporting roles. How could that not leave an impression?

And it gloriously did, as both Streep and Warren got a nomination each. Craven had won. However, he had really only won the Academy over. Music of the Heart tanked big time at the box office, grossing even less than Shocker. Nobody wanted to see it, and honestly, you better be a Wes Craven columnist yourself to sit through this. You should probably know that I’m not opposed to movies like this. The Mighty Ducks, Coach Carter, and Miracle for example are really charming flicks of charismatic, inspiring teachers guiding young folks. I also liked Hardball, Freedom Writers, Finding Forrester, Half Nelson, the goofy Dangerous Minds, Save the Last Dance, and the enchanting Samuel L. Jackson movie 187. Now, Music of the Heart has one major disadvantage by having way younger kids as students, but even that can be done. Just look at School of Rock which is a total blast.


Wes Craven’s movie is just ridiculously bland. Streep’s character is the only one getting any personality, and it’s far from an Oscar worthy performance. She’s a cute woman with frizzy hair, but neither she nor her teaching method have anything special going for itself. She’s really nothing in particular, and she never even gets to show off being that violin goddess. Her kids (Kieran Culkin, Michael Angarano of The Forbidden Kingdom… fame?) are just there. Her former boyfriend is a constant pain in the ass, but just like her fight to keep the class going against financial problems, all of her struggles do feel weak. It never once feels hard, therefore overcoming said problems never feels like a true win. Her opponents argue that in case of money problems they should cut her class, because it’s just violin class, and honestly, they’re right about it. At least from what we’re shown, as Craven never explicitly shows how the lessons change the lives of her students. It’s not like all of them end up at Juilliard because of her amazing teachings.

The worst thing about the movie is the fact that it shies away from any darkness. We barely get to see the lives of the kids, and while it is nice that their homes aren’t shown as crime-infested cliches for once, it does leave the impression that Harlem life really isn’t that bad, and that every mother can be a successful soccer mom if they just listen to a fantasy teacher who is able to gift away fifty violins. There is even a scene in which Streep learns that one of her students has been shot, but she and her students basically just shrug it off. So yeah, you really don’t need to watch this.

But I do have two recommendations for you to make it worth it. First, you really should watch the 1994 acclaimed documentary Hoop Dreams. Doesn’t feature violins, but it tells the inspiring story of two boys trying their hands at basketball careers. It’s an authentic, heart-breaking story that will leave you touched, I promise. Finish with the 2012 Christopher Walken / Philip Seymour Hoffman / Catherine Keener movie A Late Quartet about a group of older string players. You’ll thank me later.

Random Anecdotes:
Wes Craven didn’t want to direct Scream 3 unless they studio would support him on this.

Streep was only the fourth choice after Madonna, Sandra Bullock, and Meg Ryan.

Both Streep and Angarano became good violin players just for the movie.

Many of the kids in the movie are actual violin students of the real Roberta Guaspari. Amaze women with this specific piece of trivia, it’ll get you laid in no time.

Cinematic Soulmates: 187, Turbulence 3, Lexx: The Dark Zone