When you think of Wes Craven, the director of the original Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise, images of bloody knives, screaming teenagers in peril and scary killers in masks pop into your head. With his latest venture, Craven takes a new path. He is the director of Music of the Heart (Miramax), Meryl Streep’s new movie that intends to warm the heart.
Music of the Heart is the best kind of movie it can be. That being said, it is within a genre that often receives negative criticism – the melodramatic tearjerker. Streep (One True Thing) plays Roberta Demetrus, a Navy wife, who is left to pick up the pieces of her life after her husband leaves her for another woman. With her two children and 50 violins that she bought for an incredibly cheap price while traveling in Greece, Roberta leaves for New York in hope of finding a teaching job.
After Roberta arrives in New York, the movie begins to resemble Dangerous Minds. Roberta is an attractive white woman in a predominantly minority public school, much like Michelle Pfeifer’s character in Dangerous Minds. Roberta attempts to teach her students the violin and win them over.
The movie is extremely formulaic and rather unoriginal. It tries too hard. The viewer will not get choked up when the director expects him to. Many scenes in the film are such a deliberate attempt to tug at the heartstrings, they are almost laughable.
The biggest problem with the film is that it offers up an endless stream of clich?s. During the past decade, many films like Dangerous Minds, Renaissance Man and Lean on Me fall into the same category as Music of the Heart. In other words Music of the Heart must work extra hard to find a new angle for an idea that has been done before. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The one thing that saves the film from falling far below average is the quality of the acting. Streep rises above the mediocre script and fully immerses herself in the role of Roberta. She learned to play the violin just for this role. With this role, she adds another ethnicity to her repertoire, which already includes an Irish woman and a European Jew.
Craven smartly surrounds Streep’s character with a solid supporting cast, namely Jane Leeves ( Frasier), Angela Bassett (Waiting to Exhale) and Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall). However, these actors face the same problem as Streep – they must portray stereotypical character sketches. Bassett plays the school principal that gives Roberta tough love for her own benefit. This character feels as if it was cut out of another film and pasted into Music of the Heart.
The first portion of the film, which deals with Roberta’s first two months in Harlem, is easily the worst segment of the film. During this part of the film, there is a ridiculous romance between Roberta and Quinn’s character. No scenes in the film back up the feelings they express for each other. When Roberta asks him if he will love her and her children, the viewer only can laugh considering the little amount of screen time they shared. The second portion, which starts 10 years later and focuses almost exclusively on Roberta’s career, is much better.
Overall, Craven should get credit for his first foray into a genre much different from horror. The problems with the movie are not his fault nor are they the fault of any of the principal actors. Instead, the flaws in the film result from a script that seems tired and rehashed.
Besides the talented cast, the movie has an excellent musical score, with actual guest appearances from virtuosos Isaac Stern and Yitzhak Perlman. For those willing to wait approximately 90 minutes to see these men play one song, it is definitely worth it.