When I had first heard of this 1999 film called Music of the Heart, I knew that the soundtrack was strongly supported by a hit single appropriately titled "Music of My Heart," a duet between the defunct boy band *NSYNC and classic songstress Gloria Estefan. I didn't know that the movie actually starred Meryl Streep as a teacher who tries to come and teach music at an inner-city school in Harlem, but once I knew that, it also sounded to me as though the movie were a knockoff of either Dangerous Minds or Mr. Holland's Opus. Five years later though, I'm glad that I finally gave this movie a chance...because it may very well have been one of the most overlooked movies of that year.
This film, which is based on a very moving true story, stars Meryl Streep as Roberta Guaspari, the ex-wife of a Navy officer and single mother of two young boys named Nick (played by Michael Angarano at age 7 and Charlie Hofheimer at age 17) and Lexi (played by Henry Dinhofer at 5 and Kieran Culkin at 15). After her husband leaves her, she has no choice but to move back in with her mother (played by the wonderful Cloris Leachman); she faces the realistic possibility that he may not ever be coming back to live with them and she will have to go out into the real world, work for herself and support Nick and Lexi by herself. Roberta, who is a talented violinist, also has a degree in teaching but was never able to get any work experience because she was always moving around with her husband's occupation, as she later explains to her new potential love interest and old friend Brian (played by Aidan Quinn).
Brian decides to help Roberta out and hooks her up with a meeting with his friend Janet (played by Angela Bassett) - the principal of an inner-city school in East Harlem - to see if Roberta can get a job teaching the violin to some of the kids. Janet is hesitant at first but after Roberta proves herself to be an efficient teacher by having her witness Roberta’s teaching Nick and Lexi, Janet hires her and, together, they start a program dedicated to teaching Harlem kids the violin. While many of her fellow teachers and some parents of her students don't immediately take a liking to Roberta. Roberta finds a valuable friend and ally in Janet as well as second grade teacher Isabel Vasquez (played by the aforementioned singer Gloria Estefan). Throughout the film we see Roberta honing her teaching techniques and going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that the kids are doing their best.