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MUSIC OF THE HEART

SYNOPSIS:
Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep) and her two children are abandoned by her husband, an event that triggers the music teacher to assert herself and create a new way of life -not in comfort zone of Middle America but in East Harlem. Here, she has a chance to touch the lives of poor kids with her gift - teaching the violin, not the most recognisable or respected instrument in the area. Roberta, with emotional help from her mother (Cloris Leachman) and support from the head of the struggling school (Angela Bassett), manages to carve out a program that touches these young lives with positive values - but a decade later the funds are cut and the devastated teacher has to fight yet another battle to keep her work going. Her enthusiasm and determination are recognised by some of the greatest names that have played violin, who join her campaign - via Carnegie Hall.

"Meryl Streep's marvellous performance coupled with an extraordinary finale featuring some of the world's best violinists elevate Music of the Heart beyond that of 'just another uplifting story'. If you like your films to tug hard at the emotions and transport you into a world where your feelings are the barometer, this film is in your repertoire. Based on fact, it's the story of a talented and determined woman who defies the odds by her tough, uncompromising approach. Screenwriter Pamela Gray (Walk on the Moon) has a knack of capturing life's 'ordinary' moments and involving us with the characters, while director Wes Craven's passion for classical music (he used to teach) is apparent. Streep creates a dynamic, fully dimensional character we share her pain, delight in her determination and are positively cheering her on as 'anything becomes possible'. Streep had never played any musical instrument at all and spent four to six hours daily practicing the violin; the result is extraordinarily convincing. 'Do you like the sound you're making?' are the words written on the blackboard. This psychological suggestion of being in control is the fuel for the action. It's an uplifting story a little long, perhaps, and there are some continuity problems, but it's a rewarding journey, and the scenes with the children are wonderful. A strong support cast with Angela Bassett, Gloria Estefan in her first role, and impressive Jane Leeves as the photo-journalist who helps Roberta's cause. But of course, watching (and listening to) Isaac Stern, Iltzhak Perlman and Arnold Steinhardt in the line up of violin greats in the rousing finale, is a moment to savour. Uplifting and poignantly told, Music of the Heart is a story of the heart one that gives a little reassurance about human nature."
Louise Keller

"Horroficianado Wes Craven handles this change of genre with considerable aplomb and drive, although the hesitant first half (or more) of the film made me a trifle restless and detracts from the rousing finale. There is no-one who could replicate Meryl Streep's perfectionism in this role, though, from all perspectives. Her physicality, her emotional and her mental tunes and her nuanced character changes are unsensational by their sheer brilliance. Craven, rightly persued her after Streep had initial declined; his passion won her over. The kids around Streep are also wonderful, as are the real violin maestros who turn up for the concert at the big finish. Cloris Leachman, as Streep's mum, delivers a superbly pitched performance, decorated with the economy of experience, which enables her to decalre character with a single gesture (when she playfully but authoritatively shoves Streep's young son away so mum can continue a sensitive phone call with separated dad). The fact based story is inspirational, sure, but I have reservations about the chosen angle - rather straight and laboured in parts."
Andrew L. Urban

"When Meryl Streep's name appeared on this year's Oscar nominees list (her 12th nomination) I was sceptical. Was it justified, or merely a recognition of services rendered? Now, having seen Music of the Heart, I can say it was definitely justified. Like Katherine Hepburn whose record she equalled this year, Streep can carry a film on the strength of her performance alone - and she does just that here. She delivers a tour de force; full of determination, doubt, hope, integrity and passion. The film is directed by Wes Craven (of Nightmare on Elm Street fame) in a radical departure from his trademark films; and he does a good job of bringing this true-life tale to the big screen. While I was moved by the film, I couldn't help but feel it was self-consciously manipulative at times. The doe-eyed waifs, the stirring music, the tender moments and the standing ovations push all the right buttons - but do so without much restraint or subtlety. Despite this, Music of the Heart is a worthy and worthwhile film. It provides a compelling portrait of a woman for whom the phrase "it can't be done" was an anathema. Because of Streep's towering presence, the other characters are largely pushed aside. Cloris Leachman however holds her own as Assunta, the family matriarch; as does Aidan Quinn as Brian, although he quickly disappears. Cameo appearances by famous violinists like Itzhak Perelman, Isaac Stern and Arnold Steinhardt add authenticity. Perhaps the best thing about Music of the Heart is its message about the importance of the arts and arts education. And, at a time when arts funding is under attack in this country, that's a powerful message."
David Edwards

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

MUSIC OF THE HEART (PG)
(US)

CAST: Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan, Angela Basset, Jane Leeves, Cloris Leachman, Kieran Culkin

DIRECTOR: Wes Craven

PRODUCER: Marianne Maddalena, Susan Kaplan, Allan Miller, Walter Scheuer

SCRIPT: Pamela Gray

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Deming

EDITOR: Patrick Lussier

MUSIC: Mason Daring

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bruce Alan Miller

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: May 11, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: November 14, 2000







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