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Mr. Holland's Opus

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mr. Holland's Opus

Starring: Richard Dreyfus, Glenne Headley
Director: Stephen Herek
Rated: PG
RunTime: 143 Minutes
Release Date: January 1996
Genres: Drama, Family

*Also starring: Jay Thomas, Olympia Dukakis, Alicia Witt, William H. Macy, Terrence DaShon Howard, Jean Louisa Kelly, Nicholas John Renner, Joseph Anderson, Anthony Natale

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS is the classic fictional story about a teacher who uses rock 'n' roll to teach untalented kids to appreciate music. The twist in this version is that the teacher wants to be a composer and only takes a teaching position so that he can have the time and money to be able to compose, but he finds teaching to be more than a full-time job leaving little time for outside interests. When he finally does finish his American Symphony, he demonstrates, in my opinion, that teaching was the right profession for him anyway.

As the movie starts, Mr. Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is beginning his first year at John F. Kennedy High School by teaching music to the class of 65. As someone who was a member of another high school class of 65 (Garland, Texas), I can attest to the careful accuracy of the sets (David Nickolas) and the costumes (Aggie Guerrard Rodgers). Mr. Holland finds he has a group of lethargic and untalented students, and their attempt at music results in a horrible cacophony. He hates his job, and at first he is terrible at it. He uses little witticisms like "There's more to music than notes on a page" and "Playing music is supposed to be fun" in attempts to awaken and inspire his stoic students. Nothing works until he starts playing rock 'n' roll to them and after that he becomes a big hit with the kids although their playing only goes from pathetic to passable.

In a great performance W. H. Macy is Vice Principal Gene Wolters. He is the tuff principal with a flat top that you remember from high school. You know, the one that measures girls skirts and sends them home if their skirts are not regulation length. Wolters does not approve of Mr. Holland's unorthodox methods and tells him sternly that "Rock 'n' roll by its very nature leads to a breakdown in discipline." Olympia Dukakis plays Principal Jacobs who supports Mr. Holland. Jay Thomas is excellent as football Coach Bill Meister and Mr. Holland's best friend at school. In a story with a plethora of cliches, the coach gets his students to dance at the school play and thus boost ticket sales.

The corny but fun script (Patrick Duncan) is peppered with great little one liners. The coach wants his wrestling star Louis Russ (Terrence Howard) to play an instrument in the band so he can get his grade point average high enough not to get kicked off the wrestling team, but Mr. Holland has trouble finding an instrument for him. When offered a tuba, Russ complains that, "Tubas are for fat guys with pimples."

The secondary theme in the show surrounds Mr. Holland's family. His wife Iris (Glenne Headly) has a son whom Mr. Holland names Col after his idol John William Coltrane, the innovative American jazz saxophonist and composer. Mr. Holland loves music and wants his son to be just like him. Well, his son turns out deaf. In a scene that will tear your heart out, Col throws a temper tantrum at age 6 because he can not communicate with his parents enough even to tell them his most basic needs. Mr. Holland is too busy at school to pay much attention to his son or to learn minimal competency in sign language so he can talk to his son. Iris laments to him, "Why is everyone else's child more important than yours?"

Hands down, the best actor or actress in the whole movie is Jean Louisa Kelly who has a small but important role as Rowena Morgan. Rowena is a surprise star for the school musical. When she sings or acts she casts a spell on people in the movie and in the audience. A great voice and a mesmerizing smile. I'd love to see her up for an award for supporting actress, but I am sure she will be ignored in favor of Olympia Dukakis's more traditional performance.

I find Richard Dreyfuss an uneven and hence frustrating actor to watch, but in MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS, director Stephen Herek has him in perfect control. Dreyfuss never overacts as he has been known to do, see for example, THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT or LET IT RIDE. Here Dreyfuss is a master at manipulating the audience's emotion for maximum effect, but yet he gives a restrained rendition of the character.

MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS is sappy and predictable. It uses a lot of stock film footage of the Vietnam war to remind the audience of the tragedy of that era. Since I had friends die in Vietnam, I found the burial scene extremely moving. The editor (Trudy Ship) is quite adept at cutting at just at the right moment between tragedy and joy and between the movie and the old film clips of that period.

This is definitely a message movie. Principle Wolters sums it up with, "If I'm forced to choose between music and reading, writing, and long division, I choose long division every time." This is contrasted with Mr. Holland's view that "the day they cut the football budget in this state, that will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it!"

The ending is a full blown tearjerker. Save a spare batch of hankies for the conclusion. At least it ends on a complete high note (pun intended).

MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS runs an incredibly long 2:22. I think this is completely unnecessary since this is not GANDHI, but I must admit it did keep my attention, and I never looked at my watch. The movie is incorrectly rated PG. This is a G movie where I think they said a couple of cuss words just to keep it from getting a G rating. There is no sex, nudity, or violence. There is a key scene where one character kisses another on the cheek. I recommend the movie to you and give this sweet, upbeat tearjerker ***.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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