Angela Bassett, Meryl Streep, and Gloria Estefan in Music of the Heart (1999)


(director: Wes Craven; screenwriters: Pamela Gray/based on the life story of Roberta Guaspari and inspired by the documentary ”Small Wonders”; cinematographer: Peter Deming; editor: Patrick Lussier; music: Mason Daring; cast: Meryl Streep (Roberta Guaspari), Aidan Quinn (Brian Sinclair), Gloria Estefan (Isabel Vasquez), Angela Bassett (Janet Williams), Jane Leeves (Dorothea von Haeften), Cloris Leachman (Assunta Guaspari), Kieran Culkin (Teen-Age Lexi), Charlie Hofheimer (Teen-Age Nick), Josh Pais (Dennis Rausch); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Marianne Maddalena/Walter Scheuer/Allan Miller/Susan Kaplan; Miramax; 1999)

The vacuous but well-meaning pic is poorly executed and seems as if it were a TV movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A soppy feel-good story about a teacher making educational connections with her ghetto students. It goes against the grain for horror pic maven Wes Craven (“Nightmare on Elm Street”/”Cursed”/”Red Eye”). If he was on a steady diet of such bland films, he might be a teacher instead of a film-maker. The pic is based on the true story of violinist Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), who after ditched by her Navy hubby in 1988 chooses to teach music to the minority kids in East Harlem and soon moves into the neighborhood with her kids. The vacuous but well-meaning pic is poorly executed and seems as if it were a TV movie. It’s based on the 1996 Academy Award-nominated documentary “Small Wonders,” by Allen and Lana Miller, “Music of the Heart.” The screenplay is by Pamela Gray.

Angela Bassett plays the overworked school principal. Aidan Quinn is Meryl’s old school friend that she hooks up with again in a brief fling. Josh Pais is the school’s cynical music teacher. Salsa pop star Gloria Estefan has an inconsequential role in her film debut.

The pic culminates with Fiddlefest, a charity concert at Carnegie Hall, featuring violin luminaries Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman to raise funds to continue the music program after budget cuts eliminated it. It seemed as if Hollywood, of all people, was giving us a lecture on doing the right thing. Despite my misgivings, Streep still was splendid and the kids were fine. The professional supporting actors just seemed to be going through the motions in a pic that is better at making a point than entertaining.