“Uplifting” is how you describe movies like this. And it is – very. You just have to wait awhile before you get there. Still, it’s worth the wait.
Roberta Demetras (Meryl Streep) is a Navy wife, usurped in her husband’s affections by her friend. She must now make her way through life on her own with her two young sons in tow and living with her mother (Cloris Leachman) in New York.
Her violin skills are all that she has to do that. The obvious choice, then, becomes teaching. Even though she’s taught before on a small scale, she does not have the required credentials to land a proper job. That’s when she hauls in her two violin-playing kids to prove the point that she “can teach anyone”!
Lucky for her, kind principal Janet Williams (Angela Bassett) in an East Harlem school on New York’s upper bad side, agrees to give Roberta a chance as a substitute teacher.
The violin seems to have magic powers or something the way these undisciplined, not-so-rotten kids take to it. It appears to be a little too easy for Roberta who has an instant knack for making the kids listen up and do her will. But maybe she really was such a miracle maker with these kids in their early stage as mini impresarios. This is, after all, based on a true story. This is also the part where we all have to sit through some really screechy violin playing. Trust me, the playing gets a lot better as the film progresses.
We get to see Roberta move out of her mother’s house and wade through a relationship with old friend Brian (Aidan Quinn) before dumping him because he won’t make a commitment but the film revolves around Roberta and the kids – the same thing over and over again.
Finally, midway, it picks up speed and some real drama enters it when Roberta is about to lose her job because the New York school district has cut the budget for all of the arts programs. That kick in the butt gets her (and the angry parents) moving toward self-reliance and finding a means to fund the programs themselves. You¹ll like this part – it’s where everyone jumps on the help bandwagon and shows us what true community action is.
Streep is fine in the role of Roberta and her supporting cast is top notch with Bassett, Leachman, Quinn and Jay O. Sanders who plays the supportive new man in her life. The fact that it’s based on a true story is what makes it for me; when you see the ending, you’ll know why. Otherwise, I’d take “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, any day for its superior drama and “uplift”.
Lotta says “Music of the Heart” finally sings after you get through the rusty parts.