NEW YORK — "Music of the Heart" is newsworthy for at least three reasons:
One is that it's a rare family-oriented movie from a major Hollywood studio, telling the spirit-lifting tale of a middle-aged single mother who dedicates herself to sharing the joys of music with underprivileged kids in a depressed urban neighborhood.
Another is that Meryl Streep (see an interview with her, page 20) has the leading role, bringing her usual skill and conviction to a particularly deserving project.
The third is that Wes Craven has directed the picture, marking a sharp detour from his hugely successful career as a colossus of the horror genre. What's the maker of "Scream" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" doing in a place like this?
Based on real events, the story focuses on music teacher Roberta Guaspari, whose life seems adrift after her husband walks out on her and their young children.
Stronger on talent than credentials, she finds her way to an upper Manhattan elementary school, where she talks herself into a temporary job - and not an easy one, given the fact that most of her pupils hardly know what a violin is, and aren't sure they want to find out.
Ditto for some of their parents, who are suspicious of this white culture-vulture who's barged into their inner-city lives.
"Music of the Heart" would convey its worthwhile themes more effectively if it soft-pedaled its heartwarming sentiments and gave fuller attention to showing us exactly how the devoted teacher accomplishes her educational feats.
While the movie is always inspirational, it contains little that an actual teacher or parent could learn from beyond the tried-and-true advice that time and effort pay off in the end. This said, the film's can-do attitude and moments of soaring music make it a must-see for moviegoers thirsting for positive visions on the screen.
* Rated PG; contains mild vulgarity and a small amount of adult material.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society