Entertainment


‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ A Movie For The Heart

FRIDAY, JAN. 19, 1996

When the choice to be made is between head and heart, most mainstream movie fans will choose heart. And that’s why “Mr. Holland’s Opus” should make a lot of money.

Here is a film that strives to honor teachers who sacrifice for their work. They, the movie says, deserve praise for trying to teach kids who not only don’t want to learn but have a hard time even staying awake in class.

It revolves around Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), a composer whose 1965 high-school teaching “gig” turns into a 30-year career. He’s a boogie-woogie “Mr. Chips.”

To make the point about how hard teachers have it, the film contrasts his job, where he deals with the problems of both needy students and a Solomon-wise principal (Olympia Dukakis), with his home life, where he deals with an ultra-supportive wife (Glenne Headly) and their hearing-impaired son (Joseph Anderson as a teenager, Anthony Natale as an adult).

Thus we have Holland telling a young clarinet player (Alicia Witt) to “play the sunset,” which inspires her so much that she grows up to be the governor of Oregon. Then we have him going home to ignore his son, whose only crime is that he can’t share his father’s first love: music.

Of course, Holland comes around. In true Hollywood fashion, he even sings a song to the boy - after holding a light-show concert to show him and his fellow students the joys of music.

The tunes that are used to mark the passage of time are eminently listenable - from Len Barry’s “1,2,3” to Beethoven’s Seventh. But the score, which is too-lush and overblown, is a better measure of what “Mr. Holland’s Opus” so often ends up being.

At virtually every step, the film opts for the easy path. The football coach (well-played by Jay Thomas) is a kind-hearted and easygoing kind of guy who just happened to have minored in modern dance. Holland keeps a kid eligible for the wrestling squad by teaching him how to “find the rhythm.”

At times Holland’s orchestra sounds like a gaggle of high-school beginners; at others, it sounds like the Juilliard String Quartet. And it is the latter group that saves the annual school musical by pulling off a production worthy of… well, if not Broadway then at least the Spokane Opera House.

Even worse, there is little about the script by Patrick Sheane Duncan, as directed by Stephen Herek, that isn’t predictable. Have Holland complain about his job? His wife will announce she’s pregnant. Have Holland coach a student in how to sing Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”? She’ll fall for him. Etc., etc.

In the midst of this, Dreyfuss manages to pull off a bravura performance. If a performance by Olympia Dukakis is an example of all things unsubtle, then Dreyfuss is her prize pupil. Yet he deserves credit for being unafraid to explore Holland’s unlikable side. And because this is so, it makes his final honoring that much easier to accept.

“Mr. Holland’s Opus” may bring you to tears once or twice, which is its intent. Issues revolving around father-son, student-teacher and husband-wife relationships are naturally fraught with emotion.

The thing is, the film, in a clunky, corny way, manages to evoke feelings of nostalgia and sadness and pain and longing and even simple satisfaction. In the end, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” is as deep - or as shallow - as you want it to be.

And that comes straight from the heart.

, DataTimes MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “Mr. Holland’s Opus” **-1/2 Location: Newport cinemas Credits: Directed by Stephen Herek; starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Joseph Anderson and Anthony Natale Running time: 2:25 Rating: PG

2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Mr. Holland’s Opus:” Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” the aggressively promoted new schmaltzer from Disney, features an uncharacteristically low-key Richard Dreyfuss in a title role that is the walking, talking equivalent of a greeting-card proverb. … Though hardly without its scattered pleasures, the movie should be a real room-clearer for any thinking audience. Amy Dawes/Los Angeles Daily News: “Mr. Holland’s Opus” is the kind of movie that puts its lesson plan on the blackboard at the outset and carries it out to a T. As a paean to the value of deferred dreams, it will likely deliver its balm to a wide, willing audience, but as entertainment, it feels a bit too much like staying after school.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “Mr. Holland’s Opus” **-1/2 Location: Newport cinemas Credits: Directed by Stephen Herek; starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Joseph Anderson and Anthony Natale Running time: 2:25 Rating: PG

2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Mr. Holland’s Opus:” Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” the aggressively promoted new schmaltzer from Disney, features an uncharacteristically low-key Richard Dreyfuss in a title role that is the walking, talking equivalent of a greeting-card proverb. … Though hardly without its scattered pleasures, the movie should be a real room-clearer for any thinking audience. Amy Dawes/Los Angeles Daily News: “Mr. Holland’s Opus” is the kind of movie that puts its lesson plan on the blackboard at the outset and carries it out to a T. As a paean to the value of deferred dreams, it will likely deliver its balm to a wide, willing audience, but as entertainment, it feels a bit too much like staying after school.



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