Film / Music of the Heart

Music of the Heart is a 1999 dramatic/biopic film, directed by Wes Craven (yes, you read correctly, that Wes Craven) and starring Meryl Streep.

The film is based on the documentary Small Wonders, which chronicled the evolution of a violin program conducted for inner-city kids in Harlem. The woman who started this program is Roberta Guaspari, a renowned music educator who decided to start the program as she felt any child could learn to play the violin, and that it would be a good form of expression for the children who were growing up in a tough, tough neighbourhood. The events of the film lead up to a concert at Carnegie Hall, together with famous violinists who had volunteered to help. The film is notable for having most of the same violinists recreate that concert for the movie.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: One of Roberta's best students has to give up a shot at Julliard and move away because her father had been committing domestic abuse.
  • An Aesop: Every character finishes the film having learnt valuable life lessons.
  • As Himself: All the famous violinists at the concert, including Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, Joshua Bell, Sandra Park and Mark O'Connor.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Music of My Heart", performed by Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC. Was actually nominated for an Oscar.
  • Based on a True Story: and not too loosely either.
  • Biopic
  • The Cameo / Real Person Cameo: The above-mentioned famous violinists.
  • Cool Teacher: Roberta shuffles back and forth from this. One moment she's harsh and unforgiving, the next she's gentle and encouraging.
  • Gang Bangers: The audience glimpses gang activity in the harlem housing projects.
  • Inner City School: the setting for the whole film.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: One of Roberta's first students, a little girl named Guadalupe who is shown wearing leg braces. Her entire purpose in the film is to show Roberta that quitting something just because it's hard is a cop-out. She's also there to showcase Roberta's gentler side.
  • Kids Are Cruel: As expected, many of the kids don't take well to learning the violin. "Violins are for sissies" is an often-used phrase. There's also a boy who makes his sister carry his violin case for him, as he is scared that his friends will make fun of him. Another boy knocks over his stand partner's music stand on purpose.
  • The Magic Was Inside You All Along: What Roberta hopes the kids will learn as they pick up the instrument.
  • Pet the Dog: Roberta and her two sons take very good care of their pet dog, Allegra. Just when we think Roberta might've been too nasty to her class earlier in the day, she pets Allegra.
  • Private Tutor: Roberta Guaspari is tasked with a violin program conducted for inner-city kids in Harlem.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Rausch.
  • Save Our Students: Roberta, the kids and the teachers rally together to save the music program from getting its funds cut and being cancelled.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: All the inner-city kids are shown wearing very fancy clothes (including white stockings, hair accessories, branded shoes etc). However, it does look like they've cleaned up a whole lot from that when they are in their suits and dresses at Carnegie Hall.
  • Shown Their Work: The depiction of how children are taught to play the violin is very accurate, mostly because the film was made under the supervision of the real Roberta and other famed violinists. The tape markings on the fingerboard and bow, and all the terminology are generally spot-on.
  • Survivor Guilt: Ramon feels this after Justin dies in an offscreen drive-by shooting. He regrets telling him to "drop dead" the day before.
  • Time Skip: The second half of the film takes place around ten years after the events of the first, and several of Roberta's students, now grown up and accomplished musicians, return to help her with the fund-raising concert. Allegra the dog has also grown up, but she's still pretty jumpy for a 10+ year-old dog.
  • White Man's Burden: Several of the children and their mothers don't like that Roberta is trying to play messiah to the kids.
    • It should be noted Roberta herself denies this, which results in a change of heart for one skeptical parent. However, she does tend to cross into this category regardless.
  • Wretched Hive: Harlem is portrayed as this.