What’s this? A pic about an inspiring high school music teacher who faces funding cuts? Didn’t Meryl Streep do the same song and dance in “The Music of the Heart?” Well, yes, but the Eye web thinks country songstress Naomi Judd, mother of Wynona and Ashley, can add a new wrinkle to this hackneyed premise.
Set against the holiday season, this very conventional tale follows high school superintendent Cal Peterson, portrayed by the always efficient Gerald McRaney, who returns to his small Kentucky hometown to cut its high school music program, just in time for Christmas. Cal’s alienated adopted niece, Fern (Alison Pil), is also along for the ride, and wouldn’t you know it, the young girl has a secret passion for music, and when she sings, angels weep uncontrollably in heaven.
Anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Touched by an Angel” can tell you that by the end of this story, Cal is going to find himself transformed by the love of music teacher Lily. Fern will learn to belt out tunes like LeAnn Rimes in front of an emotional auditorium. Even Cal’s stoic war veteran dad — a nice turn by Andy Griffith — will be reunited with his Army buddies and decide to propose to his longtime girlfriend.
In real life, there would be no last-minute miracle attempts to save the music program, and the bitter teacher would probably hold an eternal grudge against the creepy bureaucrat who canned her.
Nevertheless, it’s good to see Mama Judd, who has an appealing screen presence, back in excellent shape after her much-publicized medical battle. It’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t take better advantage of her singing talents. Music lovers are, however, treated to a rousing finale, featuring Judd and newcomer Pil, that goes down as smoothly as eggnog.
Screening tape’s tech credits were a bit shaky, but surprisingly, Toronto looks like the perfect stand-in for Bethlehem, Ky.