merylfest: MUSIC OF THE HEART (1999)

A change of pace for Meryl Streep came in the form of 1999’s Music of the Heart, in which she played Roberta Guaspari, a real-life music teacher who went to Harlem and started a violin program in an inner-city elementary school. Frankly, I’m pretty used to seeing the actress playing formidable and strong women, so it was almost unnerving to see her break. When Roberta’s husband asks for a divorce, when she struggles through a rocky relationship with a former high school classmate (played by Aidan Quinn), when she can’t keep her composure when explaining to her eldest son (played by Will and Grace‘s Michael Angarano) what it means to be separated in a marriage — she’s showing a vulnerability and a set of flaws that aren’t in her typical performance.

So let’s just make one thing perfectly clear — I’m a sucker for a teacher movie. A big one. I’m an even bigger sucker for a music teacher movie, with the sweeping orchestrations and everything. Now tack on the fact that she teachers violin, possibly one of the most tears-inducing instruments you can play. So though the plot was somewhat formulaic, I couldn’t help but gush over the adorable underdog kids learning to play like true maestros and the cynical, unlucky-in-love school teacher growing to love them. Plus, it’s hard not to be impressed by the screen presence of Angela Bassett, who played the formidable principal of the little-engine-that-could school.

Perhaps I was pretty unimpressed with the Streep-Quinn romance subplot (underdeveloped much?), and the high billing of Gloria Estefan‘s teensy second-grade teacher role was a little confusing, but one thing’s for certain. A ragtag group of possible prodigies led by the incomparable Streep is tough to fight with. So though Mr. Holland’s Opus may’ve done it better, cleaner, and with a more riveting ending, this inspiring tearjerker is nothing to sneeze at. Thank goodness for that Streep-Bassett pairing. Oh, and can we all just take a minute to give a collective “WTF?” to the fact that horror-master Wes Craven directed this movie? Did he get lost on the way to the set of the next Elm Street flick?

Meryl’s Performance: B
The Film: B

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