If it weren't directed by horror legend Wes Craven, this film's treacly and supremely formulaic nature would come as no surprise, based on a true story or not. It is, after all, a classic "triumph of the human spirit" story, in which a
naïve but steely music teacher (Meryl Streep) bucks the odds to start a violin program in a ghetto school, eventually winding up onstage at Carnegie Hall with her kids and some of the world's most renowned violinists. The story of Roberta Gaspari and the East Harlem Violin Program has already been
told in the Oscar-nominated documentary SMALL WONDERS, and while overwhelmingly laudatory, it revealed aspects of the difficult, driven Gaspari which, while clearly crucial to her success, are less than sympathetic. But there's not much room for that sort of prickliness in mainstream
heart-tuggers, so Gaspari's grating edges have been smoothed into endearing eccentricities and her harshness reconfigured as benevolent tyranny. A newly single mother of two, with little work experience and few friends (the legacy of a Navy marriage that entailed frequent moves), Gaspari finds a
job teaching violin at a blackboard jungle through the recommendation of a childhood friend and her own desperate doggedness. Armed with a crate of violins she bought in the last port of call before her marriage disintegrated, she ignores the warnings of burned-out fellow teachers and sets about
making violinists out of her boisterous, undisciplined charges. Ten years later, her program is a stunning success threatened by beaurocratic bean counters. But supporters help her mount a fundraiser, which is how Gaspari and her kids get to Carnegie Hall (that and practice, practice, practice).
Streep gives her usual finely tuned performance, the kids are charming and the concluding concert sequence is thrilling (if hokey). But even if you haven't seen SMALL WONDERS, it all seems terribly familiar.
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- Released: 1999
- Rating: PG
- Review: If it weren't directed by horror legend Wes Craven, this film's treacly and supremely formulaic nature would come as no surprise, based on a true story or not. It is, after all, a classic "triumph of the human spirit" story, in which a naïve but steely mu… (more)