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
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
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
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
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