If Mr. Holland's Opus had been set in the Philippines, it might have come out something like Gil Portes' Small Voices, which asks the musical question, Can you sing your way out of poverty? This time, the inspirational music teacher is Melinda (Alessandra de Rossi), a freshly hatched college grad who, rather than joining her family in the Land of Opportunity, stakes her claim in a remote village where education isn't the top priority. Working in the fields is. But Melinda wants more for her students, as do her students, and somehow that leads to a singing competition. The parents are reluctant to give up their labor force. "Only the rich can afford to dream," one of them says. But Melinda, in her quietly determined way, pulls all the right strings.
Small Voices pulls, if not the right strings, then the old familiar strings in exactly the right way. The movie's one Hollywood-ish cliché after another, but Portes tugs so gently on our emotions that we don't feel like we've been had. And the lush greenery of the Philippine countryside gives the movie an exotic dimension. As does de Rossi's gentle performance. When Meryl Streep took on a similar role in Music of the Heart, she hit us with the full force of her personality. De Rossi only raises her voice in song.