Music of the Heart

by KE Monahan Huntley

The hard and fast rules of any horror movie are outlined in director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson's Scream. In Music of the Heart, Wes Craven's first directing effort outside of the horror genre, he is adhering to the basic rules of the: "Based on a True Story" movie. In this case, the true to life film is of the "Inspirational Teacher" kind-checklisted as follows:

  1. Protagonist has an ability that is unique and will ultimately achieve the objective story goal, e.g., gifted teacher.
  2. Protagonist must contain a critical flaw that undermines efforts to achieve story goal, e.g., negative feelings of value; lack of experience.
  3. Protagonist's personality further undermines efforts, e.g., acerbic; strident; general bossiness.
  4. Under inflexible exterior, protagonist has a heart, e.g., exhibits sympathy for vulnerable children.
  5. Various objective characters lack faith in the protagonist, e.g., jealous faculty, narrow-minded parents, overbearing mother, disruptive students.
  6. Various objective characters have faith in the protagonist, e.g., supportive faculty, grateful parents, youngest child, talented students.
  7. Actions in the objective story will impede the goal, e.g., Board of Trustees cuts funding for arts program.
  8. Actions in the objective story accelerate progress toward achieving the goal, e.g., Benefit Concert to reinstate program.
  9. Audience has a damn good idea goal will be achieved by final crescendo of a scene, e.g., inner city school children perform in Carnegie Hall. (With Isaac Stern no less!)
  10. Author's denouement scrolls on screen before credits, informing audience of what has happened since final scene, e.g., music program reinstated.

Without question, Wes Craven has an important story to tell, which he does in two parts.

The first part is main character Roberta Guaspari facing the reality of a husband who has run off with her best friend, leaving her to raise two young sons with little money and less resume ready work experience. Convincing the principle of an inner city alternative school to hire her and create a successful violin program is the objective story.

In part two, "Ten Years Later," main character Roberta is facing adolescent sons who wish she'd get a love life. Taking on the Board of Trustees after they cut funding from the now prestigious grade school violin program is the objective story.

The often unwieldy details are relayed from almost a purely objective point of view (see above checklist). This is what keeps Music of the Heart apart from a Dramatica grand argument story--its underdeveloped main character throughline, and lack of consistent influence character and relationship story throughlines. These perspectives are vital to providing an emotionally compelling, fully rationalized argument to the audience--one that will tell a story with context.

Just as I am predisposed to scream in a scary movie, I am always ready to well up in a "Based on a True Story." With only the facts of the matter given in Music of the Heart, I am impassively watching the factual report of a remarkable woman captured on film and (naturally) played to perfection by Meryl Streep. No tears, no fears, no story from the heart.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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