“Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995)
Running time: 143 minutes
Written by: Patrick Sheane Duncan
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Featuring: Richard Dreyfuss , Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy and Jay Thomas
Glenn Holland: “Playing music is supposed to be fun. It’s about heart, it’s about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it’s not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can’t teach you that other stuff.”
Re-released recently on Blu-ray/DVD is the Oscar nominated 1995 film “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995) featuring Richard Dreyfuss in a role that brought him back to the limelight and was not only a star making turn for him but also was a coming out party for legendary composer Michael Kamen who was heavily invested in the film. This was a film that like the previous years Oscar winner “Forrest Gump” (1994) had a narrative that travelled through some of the more important aspects of US history but instead of having the main character experiencing it first hand this movie used music as the driving narrative force, while having the main character in a small schools music department as the central narrative focus.
“Mr. Holland’s Opus” is set in Portland, Oregon in 1965, 30-year-old Glenn Holland is a talented musician and composer who has been relatively successful in the exhausting life of a professional musical performer. However, in an attempt to enjoy more free time with his young wife, Iris, and to enable him to compose a piece of orchestral music, Holland accepts a teaching position at John F. Kennedy High School.
Unfortunately for Holland, he is soon forced to realize that his position as a music teacher makes him a marginalized figure in the faculty’s hierarchy. Many of his colleagues, and some in Kennedy High’s administration, including the school’s vice principal Gene Wolters, resent Holland and question the value and importance of music education given the school’s strained budget. However, he quickly begins to win many of his colleagues over, including Principal Helen Jacobs and football coach Bill Meister. Holland finds success using rock and roll as a way to make classical music more accessible to his students.
Every teacher has his favorite students, and Mr. Holland has several. One is a hopelessly untalented band member (Alicia Witt). Mr. Holland is not able to make her talented, but he is able to restore her self-esteem, and she reappears many years later as a woman who learned much more than music in his class. Another is a beautiful and talented student (Jean Louisa Kelly), who has her sights set on
show biz, and who falls in love with Mr. Holland, who must walk a delicate emotional tightrope with an end not always in sight.
Although much of the movie involves Mr. Holland helping his students to mature, the character of the son, Cole, provides a counterpoint: A way for Mr. Holland to grow up, too, and accept bothhis son and his life. Some of them scenes between them are painful, and a later scene, where Mr. Holland sings John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” to Cole, is very moving.
Richard Dreyfuss, who is sometimes too exuberant, here finds theright tones for Mr. Holland, from youthful cocksureness to the gentleinsight of age. His physical transformations over 30 years are alwaysconvincing. Glenne Headly has a more thankless role as his wife, but watch her handle the scene where she suddenly sees something she had not suspected, and intuitively knows how to deal with it. The supporting cast is all strong, especially Jay Thomas as the football coach who becomes Holland’s lifelong friend.
“Mr. Holland’s Opus” is an interesting diversion, it is well worth a viewing but once seen its obvious plot driven by a narrative that many audiences will by now be completely at ease with really offers few surprises, a rental would suffice for this musical drama.