Meryl Takes On the System and Wes Takes a Nap

Would that the mind's powers of self-persuasion were stronger, and it were possible to convince oneself that Wes Craven's Music of the Heart, or Sam Raimi's recent For Love of the Game,is a stealthy joke on complacent audiences hungry for stand-up-and-cheer, Jeanne-Wolf-blurb-goes-here tearjerkers-a gag so unwinking and reckless it would do Andy Kaufman proud. There's promise in smart scary-movie mavens trying their hand at a horror genre of a different, deadlier sort, especially since Craven has already proven his talents as metaphysician: Hankering for escape from his own genre ghetto, he made Scream, a slasher flick about slasher flicks. So why not meta-mush this time, starting with that doozy title?

Alas, Music of the Heartis inspirational fare of the Stand and Deliver/Mr. Holland's Opus variety, glossing the true story of Roberta Guaspari, a navy wife and homemaker who one day found herself dumped for another woman and left to fend for herself and her two young boys. She began teaching violin in an East Harlem elementary school and proved excellent at it, and when city budget cuts lopped her funding, she did what any sensible gal would do-she threw a benefit concert in Carnegie Hall featuring Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and her students. Solid raw material, but the execution is overcooked: The kids are cutesy, and Meryl Streep as Roberta is hyperaddled and indecisive about which outer-borough accent to affect. Only Angela Bassett (as the no-bullshit principal) really acquits herself; worse off are requisite love interest Aidan Quinn and teacher-in-arms Gloria Estefan. And once we've seen the boom mike wave to us from above for the third time, the possibility that Craven didn't actually bother to direct his actors grows more distinct. The climactic concert should be a shamelessly rousing no-brainer, but Craven subverts the action with endless wowee-zowee reaction shots from the adoring audience; he might as well be filming the Emmys. He might as well be filming anything, really-Craven is asleep at the wheel, having crashed hard from a sugar high.

Streep and Bassett in Mr. Craven's Opus
photo: Miramax Films
Streep and Bassett in Mr. Craven's Opus

Details

Music of the Heart
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Pamela Gray
A Miramax release

Some Fish Can Fly
Written and directed by Robert Kane Pappas
An Artistic License release
Opens November 5

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**With Wes, one searches in vain for the meta in his madness, but Some Fish Can Fly's determination to be a movie-within-a-movie is subverted foremost because neither movie has been made. A smug would-be filmmaker (Kevin Causey, who bears a tragic resemblance to Charles Rocket) tries to shoot a fictitious version of his breakup with a skittish Irish girl (Nancy St. Alban, who apparently learned her accent from watching Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly), and the result is an enervating faux-rehash of Sherman's March. Some dogs can bark.

 
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