Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index


Directed by Wes Craven (1999, Miramax)
Starring Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Angela Bassett, and Jane Leaves

A newly single mother starts teaching the violin to inner city students in Harlem.



2 stars

September 2nd, 2002 on TV

    An entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, but not as entertaining or inspiring as other movies in the same vein.

Not so inspiring as I had hoped. I generally like this kind of story, with a new teacher learning how to cope with difficult students. Except that Roberta didn't really have much trouble with her students, and she seemed to be a fine teacher from the start, even if she was harsh.

That harshness gave us some good moments, though, like when the students don't like her being nice -that her harshness "added variety" to their school day. And her contrast to the head of the music department, who was singing "C-D-D-C-D-D-C" as he was marking exams while the students practiced, was quite hilarious.

The difficulties that she experienced included students who were not interested in violin, and hence were not dedicated enough for her. None of the kids practiced enough. I played guitar for three years, and I almost never practiced, so I know the feeling of disappointment the teacher can give out when she notices -and they can always tell. Other students always show up late, another kind of dedication problem.

But the other kinds of difficulties are never dealt with in enough detail. There is the kid who is pulled from the class because his mother thinks it's a white-man's art form. She gets him back by throwing the mother's words back at her at a later time. There is the girl who needs leg braces to stand -she ends up sitting while playing. One girl's father was hitting her mother, and so family services make them leave the city. And so on. We get a lot of sad faces, and a couple of short scenes dealing with them, but it seems to show us that there is nothing much she can do about it. And then we move on. The only one that I felt some repercussion from was the boy who was inadvertently killed in a drive-by shooting. His classmate had told him to "drop dead" just that afternoon, and thinks it's his fault. She manages to convince him otherwise ("I don't think you're that powerful" or else he'd be a genius with the violin was a great line), but we never hear about it again, either.

Roberta's family life was not all that interesting. Her husband had left her for some young girl, and even after he dumps the girl, he doesn't come back. A chance encounter with an old school friend leads her to apply for a job at an inner city elementary school, where she is at first rejected, but is finally accepted when her two kids audition on the violin for her. I didn't think it was enough to get her the job, but it got the point across.

Right after she sleeps with her old friend, we find out what the threat of commitment does to him. He's off for weeks, even months at a time, researching books that he's writing. Finally, when she's doing well, and buys a house, asks him to move in, he balks and she "fires" him. Ten years later, her kids send out an ad for a man for her, but she still doesn't want to get involved. Her two kids were cute as youngsters, and seemed to grow up well-mannered.

It is after ten years pass that the emotional crunch of the film starts, where her music program is cut from the curriculum. She fights it with a benefit concert, recruiting some really big names and ending up playing at Carnegie Hall! She also invites her oldest and best students to play with them, including DeShaun, who originally thought the violin was for sissies, and the same boy whose mother didn't want him playing white-man's music.

The concert was pretty good, though not great. I much preferred the similarly themed Mr. Holland's Opus as far as concerts go. As for teachers trying to win over a tough class, To Sir, With Love is the classic to which all others are compared, and this one doesn't compare at all.

Still, I became involved in the story when they were organizing the concert, and the small battles she had to fight to get it going. The acting was pretty good, and held up through the film. The characters could be passionate, and I wonder if it wasn't the material that let them down.

This was a movie that I could have taken or left. It's a good thing that I watched it on TV, because I barely cared afterwards that it was over. Still, it had its inspiring moments, its funny moments, and its emotional ones, too. They just lacked something passionate to bond them.


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