It almost seems like the title of a porno movie, doesn't it?
But the friend I saw it with, who knows infinitely more about music
than I do, assures me an opus has something to do with symphonies.
He started to explain it, but after having just sat through a 145-minute
epic melodrama, my attention span was too far gone to listen. MR.
HOLLAND'S OPUS covers thirty years in the life of a high school
music teacher and, believe me, you feel like you've aged along with
Richard Dreyfuss plays Glenn Holland, a composer working
on a symphony that he believes will earn him riches and fame. He
spends thirty years on this symphony, which lasts only two and a
half minutes when played at the end of the movie. The same musician
friend I saw the movie with assures me that symphony would never
make anyone rich or famous. "It sounds like something Yanni would
play live at the Acropolis," he remarked. Even I didn't believe anyone
would spend a third of a century working on something I'd swear I
heard the last time I was in an elevator.
Holland is sick of the wedding/bar mitzvah life of a man in
a traveling band, and decides to take a job teaching, just for a few
years, to have more time to spend with his wife (Glenn Headly) and
his symphony (Elle Vator-Muzik). Principal Olympia Dukakis
assures him it won't just be a job "to fall back on" and gym coach Jay
Thomas scoffs at the notion of a teaching job giving anyone free time.
Mr. Holland hates the job at first, but soon discovers that interactive
Hollywood teaching style we've all seen. You know, where the
actor/actress makes teaching fun and the whole class goes crazy
about learning. Never mind that this has never once happened in real
life, where school is a boring necessity that motivates few, including
the smart kids. But nothing in MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS has any
bearing on reality.
This is a movie where you know every single character
they introduce will fall victim to some melodramatic tragedy, whether
it's the football player who has to join the band to keep his grade
point up but has no rhythm (a black guy with no rhythm -- told you
the movie wasn't believable) who is later killed in Vietnam, or the
girl who took up clarinet playing because everyone else in her family
was good at something and she felt like an utter failure, or the young
singer who wants to follow her Broadway dreams but is held back
by her father. Speaking of the believability factor, we're supposed to
believe this girl wants Mr. Holland to run away to New York with
her for a life of free-swinging sexual euphoria. What is it about
Dreyfuss that attracts the teenage girls, the liver spots or the
The biggest dramatic obstacle for Dreyfuss to overcome
is his own son, who is born deaf, the ultimate irony for a father who
wants his son to live and breathe music. But the most emotional the
movie gets on this issue is having Dreyfuss sing John Lennon's
"Beautiful Boy" (not one of his hundred best, let me tell you that)
to him at a recital. It's more awkward and laughable than touching,
and is just one of the many gratuitous musical numbers in the film
that add to the eternally-long running time.
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS spends most of its time in two
years -- 1965 and 1980, the first year showing Dreyfuss' first teaching
days and the second year introducing the struggles with their son
and the temptations offered by the young singer. Then we finally
flash-foward to 1995 and the ending of the film, which is more than
suiting for a movie that's been absurdly far-fetched and handled the
dramatic issues in ineffective ways.
Every student he's ever taught shows up for a surprise
ceremony in the gym, where his symphony is finally played. So we
get a bunch of testimonies about how his teaching style changed
their lives (the clarinet girl, it turns out, is now the state governor),
though for some reason the fate of the singer is never mentioned.
This ending seemed ridiculous to me because I don't think there's
ever been a teacher who's altered my goals or beliefs in any way.
There have been plenty I've liked and now miss a little, but nothing
life changing, especially from a music teacher. My old Sex Ed.
teacher, on the other hand...
Copyright © 1996 Andrew Hicks