Music of the Heart

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Music of the Heart Movie Poster Image
Touching story about a determined teacher has mature themes.
  • PG
  • 1999
  • 124 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Music of the Heart offers positive messages about passion, integrity, leadership, the importance of music and art in children's development, fighting for something you believe in, and the rewards of perseverance and hard work in achieving your goals. It also focuses heavily on the importance of community in improving neighborhoods.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are realistically drawn. Parents are engaged and present. Adults are involved in children's lives and behave ethically. Children are realistic and well-intentioned. Teachers, in particular, are shown as committed and determined to improving their student's lives, but there is at least one portrayed as phoning it in, which creates a realistic picture.


Aside from a brief fight between kids, which shows one kid with a bloody nose and putting another in a headlock, there is no depicted violence in the film. However, the results of violent behavior are discussed, including the deaths of grandparents, a child who is discussed as having died from a gunshot wound from a drive-by, and a girl who discusses her father's abuse of her mother, but none of these instances is shown visually. The risk inherent in the lives of these inner city children creates a sense of peril about their lives overall.


A man and woman kiss in a few scenes. A man is discussed as having left his wife for another woman. A woman is shown waking up in bed, appearing to be naked under the covers (but with a blanket up to her arms), as if to imply the previous night's intercourse. Teenage boys place an ad in the newspaper to solicit dates for their single mother. A woman goes on a date with a man.


Mildly insulting language is used, such as "stupid," "bitch," "what the hell," and "oh my god."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In a few scenes, adults are showing drinking wine or beer in casual settings.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Music of the Heart is based on the true story of a teacher's struggle to teach violin to inner city kids in Harlem. There are some heavy themes, such as poverty, divorce, a father abandoning his wife and sons to be with another woman, and the discussion (but not depiction) of violence or its consequences, such as the death of a child from a drive-by shooting, and a family going into hiding because of the father's abuse. There is some mild profanity ("bitch" and "hell"). The film is a positive, uplifting look at the positive role of music in the lives of disadvantaged kids, but heavier themes and long run time (two hours) make it best for older kids.

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What's the story?

Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep) is a newly single mom who needs a job. When she decides to try teaching violin to make ends meet at an inner city school in Harlem, she meets great resistance. But with passion and determination, she proves her value to the school and principal (Angela Bassett), but the question is whether she can prove the value of her music program and violin to the kids she teaches, and the community they live in.

Is it any good?

MUSIC OF THE HEART has its heart in the right place. It's an uplifting look, based on a true story, at a teacher whose single-mindedness and often very stubborn determination made a huge impact on hundreds of kids' lives. It touches on the struggles of single mothers, the lives of inner city kids, the complexity of race relations, the effects of poverty, and the way art and music is not just a fun extracurricular activity for many children -- it's a lifeline to a less impoverished life. 

The film confronts death, poverty, divorce, and abuse directly in discussions but, because it doesn't depict those things graphically, kids who might otherwise be upset by these ideas have a buffer to ponder them without seeing them. However, at just over two hours, the film will challenge even the best attention spans. Best for parents and kids who've moved into discussions of music, art, community, or social justice.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about passion. What are you passionate about? How did the teacher's passion in the film help her achieve her goals?

  • Community plays an important role in the success of the teacher's music program. How did she gather their support? What did it take for her to make her community see how important learning violin was?

  • The film has a big message about not giving up. Why did so many of the kids want to give up learning violin? What do you think made them stick with it? Have you ever wanted to give up on something? Did you? Why or why not? What can you do when you feel like giving up on something difficult?

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