I watched one of my favorite films, MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS, last night for the first time in a few years courtesy of a recording made from a Turner Classic showing. Richard Dreyfuss is particularly good as Glenn Holland, a musician who became a teacher. A stellar cast, some others were Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, and Jay Thomas.
Glenn Holland is a young musician in the early sixties with visions of being a great composer. He plays in a band and works on his magnum piece in his spare time. Like a lot of folks, he has a teaching credential, “my fallback position,” in case all else fails. It does of course and he takes a job as Music Appreciation instructor and director of the John F. Kennedy High School band. The idea is to teach a few years, work on his piece in his spare time, save every dime his wife and he can spare from their jobs, then quit to write his music full time.
But life gets in the way as it usually does.
Olympia Dukakis is the principal who hires him and for the first few months is singularly unimpressed by him. William H. macy is the vice-principal, a nemesis of sorts, who is horrified when Holland makes a break through with his students, and himself, by introducing rock and roll into the lesson plans. “The devil’s work,” says Macy. “I’ll teach anything from Beethoven to rock-and-roll to get my students to love music,” responds Holland. Jay Thomas is the football coach who becomes his best friend.
The film is a series of vignettes over a thirty year period, interspersed with montages of real life events that illustrate the passing of time. There’s the fragile young girl who desperately wants to learn the clarinet because she’s the only person in her family with no talent(and she’s bad) that he begins working with in odd moments, the athlete who’s not good in class work, though he works hard, and needs an academic credit that Holland helps become a good drummer, the stoner that memorizes everything, but has no real appreciation of music, and the talented young singer whose father wants her to help out in the family restaurant after high school that he advises to do what she wants first.
And the wife gets pregnant. A son is born deaf(ninety percent anyway) and Holland doesn’t know how to deal with that. He wants to protect the boy but unconsciously pushes him away as he grows. It takes John Lennon’s death and the aftermath for a breakthrough there.
Then it becomes 1995 and, in a cost-cutting move, the entire arts department is cut. Sixty years old and “too old to start a rock band,” Holland feels lost.
That’s when Mr. Holland’s opus is revealed. An auditorium full of students that he touched over his years of teaching there to honor him and perform the world premiere of his THE AMERICAN SYMPHONY. Noteworthy is that young clarinetist, now Governor of the state.
A lovely movie, the ending of which never fails to bring a tear.