Music of the HeartOctober 29, 1999
Story of a schoolteacher's struggle to teach violin to inner-city Harlem kids.
Release Year: 1999
Rating: 6.5/10 (6,330 voted)
Critic's Score: 54/100
Stars: Meryl Streep, Cloris Leachman, Henry Dinhofer
The true story of a young teacher who fights against the board of education in her bid to teach underprivileged kids in a Harlem school the beauty of music through the violin. In her struggle she loses everything as the system comes down on her with all their might but her determination for the kids happiness helps her to battle back with wonderfully inspirational results.
Lexi at 5
Nick at 7
Principal Janet Williams
DeSean at 11
Lucy at 10
(as Victoria Gomez)
Justin Pierre Edmund
Justin 'DJ' Spaulding
Naeem Adisa at 9
(as Justin Spaulding)
Guadalupe at 9
She gave them a gift they could never imagine. They gave the system a fight it would never forget.
Release Date: 29 October 1999
Filming Locations: Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $3,653,281
(31 October 1999)
Did You Know?
Many of the children featured in this film are actual students of Ms. Tvaraz and were actually with her during the events (including the Carnegie Hall Extravaganza) that led to the establishment of the Opus 118 East Harlem Violin Program that helped to support Roberta in the public school system.
When Roberta speaks with Brian in her bedroom, she has curlers in her hair. In the next shot, they are gone.
I was the only one in the coffee shop not speaking Spanish. Boys, lunch!
That's a truck backfire, Mom.
standard but moving story
I must confess that I approached `Music of the Heart' with a great deal of
fear and trepidation. I really had no desire to subject myself to what I
envisioned to be a 124-minute barrage of inspirational life messages and
feel-good sentimentality. What a pleasant surprise then to discover this to
be a genuinely moving and heartwarming true-life tale of an extraordinary
teacher, Roberta Gaspari, and her equally extraordinary students.
In plot, `Music of the Heart' doesn't deviate much from the standard formula
common to such films. We have, first, the neophyte white middle class
schoolteacher, plunged into the heart of a problem-ridden inner city Harlem
school, filled with burnt-out teachers who have learned to expect little
(and thereby garner little) from the youngsters placed in their charge and
children themselves whose troubled home lives provide little in the way of a
nurturing environment for academic achievement. We encounter the
predictable first-day stumbles of this headstrong, idealistic newcomer as
the students challenge her authority and the relevance of her violin class
in no uncertain terms; we see how, through discipline and the sheer force of
her own determination, she eventually connects them to the music they are
learning to play, building their self-confidence and slowly winning the
respect of their often skeptical, and, occasionally, downright hostile
parents in the process. Then comes the great challenge, as the school
board, after ten successful years in which the program has earned a sizable
reputation and even been featured in magazine articles, pulls the plug on
the funding. Thanks to the sheer determination of Gaspari, the parents
whose children's lives have been forever altered, a magazine writer and the
voluntary participation of a number of the world's premiere violinists (a
large number of whom appear as themselves in the film), the group stages an
amazing fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall, the proceeds from which save
the program and help ensure its survival for the next several
One of the chief reasons that `Music of the Heart' does not dissolve (as it
so easily might have) into a puddle of goopy tears lies in the
matter-of-fact interpretation of the main character that both writer, Pamela
Gray, and actress, Meryl Streep, bring to bear on the role. At no time is
Roberta ever portrayed as a saintly figure. In fact, she is a woman filled
with all sorts of insecurities and vulnerabilities, exacerbated by the
devastating sense of bewilderment and loss caused by the unexpected
termination of her marriage and her seeming need to be dependent on a man
for comfort, support and a sense of purpose. She is often overbearing,
pushy and pigheaded and not just in the classroom where it counts, but also
in her personal life where it often alienates her from the ones she loves
most. Yet, somehow out of this mass of self-doubts and personal missteps,
she finds the inner strength and emotional wherewithal to work miracles.
Streep throws herself so completely into the role that we cannot take our
eyes off her for a single one of the film's 120 enthralling minutes (and I
doubt that she is ever off screen for more than a few seconds in the entire
film). It is a truly glowing performance.
Equally impressive, director Wes Craven is to be highly commended for
drawing such an impressive array of credible, down-to-earth performances
from a large cast of outstanding preteen actors. Thanks to them and an air
of naturalism in the dialogue, the scenes between the youngsters and their
teacher always ring true and believable.
I defy anyone – even the most tone deaf, musically disinterested member of
the audience – not to be deeply touched by the final scenes of this film.
Craven, from all his years doing those slasher films I suppose, really knows
how to generate a sense of suspense as we follow the pre-show
behind-the-scenes preparations of the nail-biting participants. The
recreated concert itself, with a number of the real life participants
brought back to play for the occasion, is utterly engrossing and leaves the
audience both rheumy-eyed and covered with goose bumps. Well, maybe "Music
of the Heart" is, after all, filled with the `inspirational life messages'
and `feel-good sentimentality' I so dreaded at the outset of the film. That
being the case, I guess that isn't such a bad thing after