A well-intentioned redemption movie that follows all its formulas sweetly, MR HOLLAND’S OPUS then tries one last tear-jerk that just makes us feel dirty, paying off with a piece of elevator muzak that is so memorable, it will have you humming something else within five minutes of hearing it.
Richard Dreyfuss is Mr. Holland, a composer who begrudgingly takes a job as a high school music teacher to make ends meet. His methods are rigid at first, as he forgets that music is meant to be fun. Then he remembers. Then his students forget. And so on.
There’s the faithful, supportive wife (Glenne Headly), the brash football coach buddy (Bill Meister), the anal principal who butts heads with Holland over his “revolutionary” methods, like teaching rock and roll and other devil’s music (William H. Macy), the wet-mouthed schoolgirl with the crush (Jean Louisa Kelly, who sexes Holland with a sensual rendition of Someone to Watch Over Me), the schoolgirl unsure of herself whom Holland gives confidence (Alicia Witt), the underprivileged black kid with no rhythm– hang on now!– The wha-? Terrence Howard pretends really badly that whitey Dreyfuss teaches him soul… and finally, for this man whose life revolves around sound – his wife births a deaf son. Writer Patrick Sheane Duncan shows us that the Poignant Plot Device Handbook is a harsh mistress.
Throughout his career of coaxing musicality from his students and sending them out into the world, Holland slaves over a masterpiece that we only hear in snatches as he toodles on his piano and scribbles notes.
Then the big payoff. Holland, old, exhausted, forced into retirement, is given a final surprise by his students, as they assemble in the auditorium as an orchestra to perform his magnum opus for the first time. And after 30 years of working on this piece of music which he brazenly calls American Symphony; after all that sweat and sacrifice and slaving, his magnum opus sounds like – elevator muzak! In 12/8 time, a tuneless, embarrassing, meandering piece of unmemorable laundry detergent commercial. And look at the faces on the crowd: inspired, majestic, flavor bursting in your mouth not in your hand.
MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS is a cry for art, a plea for creativity, a pledge against mediocrity – and the American Symphony is the turd in the swimming pool of musical appreciation.
It is blathered quite overtly that Mr. Holland’s true opus is the collective education of his students over the years. THEY are his masterpiece…
Thank Christ! For a moment, we thought we’d have to continue to hold our “inspired” faces for your laundry detergent commercial…