Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan, Angela Bassett
Okay, I admit it. I'm a sucker for Meryl Streep. She appeals to my "inner preacher" and "inner pimp." Yes, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've had impure thoughts about her, and it's nearly always happened in roles such as this one. Streep does wonders here in the role of Roberta Guaspari, a Harlem music teacher. The film is based on the true story of this teacher, who struggles to teach violin to these inner city children. Streep studied violin for 2-4 hours a day for 3 months to prepare for this role, and played her own music during the film. This commitment, typical for Streep, is evident throughout the film. Of course, this film could have been a "run of the mill" classroom pic, but the exceptional cast elevates a typical, methodical script. It brings back the strengths of "Mr. Holland's Opus" with the weaknesses of a film such as "John Q." That is, it appeals to the emotions (almost manipulatively), contains wondrous performances and inspiration such as in "Mr. Holland's Opus," (beyond the obvious music and "system" similarities) but also borders on preachy at times and contains an uneven, at times preposterous script (like "John Q"). Where Denzel Washington couldn't quite save "John Q", this film is blessed not only by a strong Streep but also an exemplary supporting cast.
Beyond Streep's Oscar nominated role, we also have strong performances here by singer Gloria Estefan, Angela Bassett, Aidan Quinn, Cloris Leachman, Kieran Culkin and many of the young students in the film.
The film is a touch too long, at over two hours...and considering the "classical" nature of the music I was a bit irritated by the "pop" theme song from Estefan and N'Sync. It is important to note that this song, despite my irritation, did receive an Oscar nomination. For me, it simply didn't fit the film.
Another important note for this film is its director...none other than Wes Craven. Yes, THAT Wes Craven...In the midst of all his horror films he does a nice, though at times uneven, job with the emotions and human relationships in this film.
This is not a perfect film, by any means. Its script can be frustrating and I did feel like my emotions were being intentionally manipulated at times. Yet, I can't deny I enjoyed this film. Largely due to the conviction and commitment of the cast, this story comes to life in this film and I highly recommend the film for those seeking inspiration, motivation and affirmation of the power that one person can have on the life of another.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic