Music Of The Heart

on October 29, 1999 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   The inspiring true story of teacher Roberta Guaspari is given a conventional treatment in this decidedly uninspiring drama. Abandoned by her husband, and with two boys to raise, violinist Guaspari (Meryl Streep) ends up teaching music in a tough East Harlem public school. Resented at first by her fellow teachers and some of her students' parents, she perseveres and soon enough, the East Harlem Children's Choir becomes world renowned--until budget cuts threaten its existence.
   It's extraordinarily difficult to dramatize teaching on screen but "Music of the Heart" doesn't even make a nominal effort to do so. There's barely a segue between Roberta entering the classroom to encounter her first batch of unruly, disinterested students and her ascension to the most popular teacher in school. And though it's set in a dangerous part of New York City, except for one pupil killed in a drive-by shooting, reality never intrudes in this unrealistic, bucolic public school. And the role of Guaspari itself is problematic; we never really see what makes the kids trust and admire her. The other potentially interesting characters who interact with her, such as the stressed but supportive principal (Angela Bassett) and a friendly colleague (singer Gloria Estefan, in her film debut), are underused. "Music of the Heart" is honest about Guaspari's troubled love life but her beaus, played by Aidan Quinn and Jay O. Sanders, haven't much to do.
   Yes, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by scenes of the children playing with the famous likes of Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman, but everything leading up to this poignant moment is lazy, unimaginative filmmaking. The world needs teachers like Roberta Guaspari. It doesn't need movies like "Music of the Heart."    Starring Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn and Angela Bassett. Directed by Wes Craven. Written by Pamela Gray. Produced by Marianne Maddalena, Walter Scheuer, Allan Miller and Susan Kaplan. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated PG for brief mild language and sensuality. Running time: 124 min.
Tags: tarring Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Angela Bassett, Directed by Wes Craven. Written by Pamela Gray. Produced by Marianne Maddalena, Walter Scheuer, Allan Miller, Susan Kaplan, Miramax, Drama

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