Music of the Heart

Director Wes Craven, best known for creating the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, has moved from one cliche-ridden genre to another.

“Music of the Heart,” his “departure” film, tells the true story of Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), an inner-city music teacher who has used the violin for more than 15 years to inspire hundreds of children to reach beyond themselves.

True or not, the story fits exactly in the mold of all the other “teacher faces insurmountable odds and makes a difference” movies: “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean on Me,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” etc., etc.

Is there a jaded music teacher (Josh Pais) who has lost his passion for teaching and is against Roberta? Yes. Is the tough-but-fair principal of the school (Angela Bassett) skeptical at first, but won over when Roberta dazzles her with her on-the-spot teaching prowess, right there in the office? Of course. Does Roberta actually utter the words, “You’re underestimating them”? Naturally.

Does funding for the program get cut? Does everyone rally together? Is there a big concert in Carnegie Hall? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.

How cliche is this movie? In a scene taking place at Christmastime, Roberta is watching — what else? — “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV.

Were it not for Streep’s excellent, believable performance, this movie would be a twisted wreck of trite dialogue and hokey, manipulative scenes. But Streep is a great actress, and she is particularly convincing in the classroom scenes: She looks, acts and sounds like a teacher.

In fact, just as a song can worm its way into our hearts even though the lyrics and/or music aren’t actually anything special — you know, there’s just something ABOUT the song – this film, too, is better than the sum of its parts. Despite the utter lack of originality and the unnecessary forays into Roberta’s personal life — one senses her boyfriends are included just because they were there in real life, too, and this is supposed to be a true story — the movie manages to be a little effective.

By no means is it brilliant film-making. But it’s not boring, either (thank Streep for that, not director Craven, who is waaay out of his element here in terms of constructing vivid scenes). And there are moments where you do feel the inspiring message that was supposed to permeate the whole thing.

In musical terms, this is a generic, three-chord Celine Dion radio hit: light-weight, unoriginal and sappy, but darn it, it almost makes you feel something.

B- (; PG, brief mild language and sensuality.)