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Frankly when I saw the trailer for this film about a music teacher who doesn't really want to be a teacher, but money's tight and, oh by the way, his son is deaf -- I went looking for the nearest vomit bag.
Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
Mr. Holland's Opus is an incredibly satisfying movie. Richard Dreyfuss lies back and delivers a performance that, frankly, you only see from him once every decade. It is balanced. It is reserved. It is almost the antithesis of everything Dreyfuss has done in between great performances in Jaws, Close Encounters, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
We begin in 1965. Glenn Holland, a composer/musician tired of the club, wedding, and bar mitzvah circuit, takes a job as a high school teacher. He and his wife (Glenne Headly) agree that four years should be enough to get their finances straight. So he can return to writing the symphony he has dreamed of.
Somewhere in that first year, the ordeal of dealing with a job he hates and students who couldn't care, flip flops. He finds a way to connect to the kids. They respond and begin to learn about music. We see individual students respond to one-on-one coaching (the first you'll see is TV's Alicia Witt, from Cybill). But then a baby comes. A four-year commitment becomes something more permanent. Holland continues to write, but he finds himself really enjoying his work. The school orchestra responds to his direction. He forms a marching band. He teaches a rhythmically-challenged student how to beat a drum. It may not read like much, but it is a truly enjoyable and uplifting series of events to see.
Then it is discovered that his son is 90% deaf. What made Cranky groan in the trailer is handled without exploitation of any kind. Indeed, Holland refuses to deal with the situation by throwing himself more into his schoolwork. And that will come back to cause problems 15 years down the line.
For Mr. Holland's Opus covers a 30-year period. The son will grow into a man. Holland will see his students grow and leave -- and more. He will grow older. He will be tempted. He will learn more about himself than he could possibly have imagined. That is more than I should have written, but less than you will discover as the years play out.
Of course, if you're a young teen, this might play out as so much sentimental crap. If you've a relationship or two under your belt, I don't think there is any way that this film can fail to move you.
Glenne Headly and Jay Thomas (as the football coach), in their supporting roles, do just what is called for as everything moves on. They grow as well, but they support the Dreyfuss character as he grows and changes.
And, yes, you will probably see or hear comparisons to a classic movie called Goodbye, Mr. Chips (which has already been made twice), in which the teacher is British. It is not the source material and, even if it were, Cranky doesn't make comparisons. I could be cynical and say, "This has been done," but I'm not going to.
For Opus hit Cranky right where he lived. When he was in high school, he felt just as out of place as most of Holland's music students appear to in the film. I had two music teachers that helped make everything clear, and imparted a love for music which has never left me. Their names are below.
Finally, I never would have expected a film which is balanced so delicately on an edge between emotionally touching and emotionally crass and exploitative, to have been helmed by the director of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and The Mighty Ducks. His name is Stephen Herek, and he did an excellent job.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Mr. Holland's Opus, he would have paid . . .
Cranky rates movies based on what he feels he should have paid for the pleasure. And the pleasure found in Mr. Holland's Opus is immense. I saw it once. I will see it again. So this is either the last, or the first, $8 rating of the year. Pick your year. I don't care. Take someone you love, or someone you would like to love. Bring Kleenex, too.
This review is dedicated to (the retired) William Ringham and (the late) Anthony Pollera, who were the equivalent of Cranky's "Mr. Holland" at Lawrence High School in New York, and to my very first teacher, Cliff Hudson (at the No. 1 elementary school), many years ago.
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