MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS. Directed by Stephen Herek; written by Patrick Sheane Duncan; produced by Ted Field, Michael Nolin and Robert W. Cort for Hollywood Pictures. Starring Richard Dreyfuss. Rated PG.
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Mr. Holland's Opus is a first-class feel-good movie that covers a lot of ground.
First of all, it's a teacher biography in the best Goodbye, Mr. Chips tradition. But it's also a witty time-capsule history of the past 30 years, an object lesson in parent-child relations, and a persuasive argument for arts education.
Along the way you get to see a shoo-in Oscar-caliber performance from Dreyfuss and you get to hear some nifty music as well.
Now, some of the movie's solutions are too pat. And, of course, the high school band that Mr. Holland (Dreyfuss) conducts sounds better than any real high school band possibly could. But, for the most Part, Mr. Holland's Opus earns an A.
Holland starts out as a reluctant teacher, planning on composing in all the spare time he will have and saving up money to fund future, full-time composition. (I saw this movie in a special preview showing for music teachers who were VERY amused by such naivete.) But as the years go by (he can't quit once when he wants to because just then his wife gets pregnant and they need larger quarters) and he becomes a better and better teacher... well, we know how important the job has become to him before he does, but he does eventually realize it.
What makes Mr. Holland's Opus better than the predictable storyline might indicate is the well-placed humor of the script and the way Holland's personal trials are wound up with his development as a teacher. An excellent, though somewhat underused, supporting casts helps, too. Glenne Headly, as Mrs. Holland, and Olympia Dukakis, as Holland's first principal, in particular, give performances that we wish were developed further.
But in the end this is really a one-man-show, and Dreyfuss really sinks his teeth into this meaty role. You'd expect him to bring the house down, given such an opportunity, and he doesn't disappoint you.
January 31, 1996