MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS - Content
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS
From the Jan. 19, 1996, Deseret News
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS — Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas, Olympia Dukakis; rated PG (profanity).
A '90s spin on the old chestnut "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Mr. Holland's Opus" is a new anthem to schoolteachers. And as it rehashes cliché sequences we've witnessed in far too many other movies, it would probably merit merely a C- if not for the compelling performance of Richard Dreyfuss at its core. He boosts the film to an easy B (and the performance itself deserves an A+).
Covering three decades, the film begins in the mid-'60s as Glenn Holland (Dreyfuss) reluctantly accepts a teaching job, just so he can earn some money while he devotes his free time to his real love, composing music.
But he soon discovers the truth about being a teacher — there is no free time. And as time goes by, he embraces his profession and recognizes the value of passing on his passion for music to his students.
Still, there is some frustration in his life at not being able to pursue his personal dream, and over the years he has his ups and downs with students, education at large and with his own family.
One of the film's weaknesses is that the relationship between Holland and his wife (played very well by Glenne Headly, of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") isn't better drawn. What rings more clear is his relationship with his deaf son, culminating in a lovely scene that has Holland singing John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" to him from an auditorium stage in front of the boy's fellow students.
The other vignettes here are hit and miss, ranging from comic to sentimental, some quite winning and others dragging the narrative down. Alicia Witt stands out among the supporting players as a clarinet student who should consider another instrument. (Witt also delivers a knockout performance in "Fun," which also opens today.) But another subplot, about a student (Jean Louisa Kelly) who has a crush on Holland is awfully contrived.
Ultimately, of course, Holland comes to realize he has made his choice, and that his wife and son — and his students — are more important than his unfinished symphony. And if the climax is a bit corny, as his now-adult students return to give something back, so be it.
There is also a political subtext at work here, with references to everything from the Kennedy assassination to the Vietnam War to Watergate and Nixon's resignation to education cutbacks in the '90s, though it's merely a skimpy segue device. (At nearly 2-1/2 hours, the film could use some trimming.)
But what cuts through all of this and makes it not just watchable but quite enjoyable is the excellent performance delivered by Dreyfuss. He seems perfect — and his aging makeup is quite remarkable. (Dreyfuss really looks like he's lost 20 years in the early scenes.)
Some may find this sappy and sentimental — and I won't argue about that. But it's also quite charming and winning.
"Mr. Holland's Opus" is rated PG for profanity.