Thursday, January 18, 2018

Movie #445: Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus is somewhat schmaltzy drama starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Alicia Witt, and Jay Thomas.

Glenn Holland (Dreyfuss) is a musician who takes a job teaching high school music to support himself and his wife Iris (Headly) while he works on his own original composition. He thinks teaching will afford him "free time" (as the kids say, lol. This is fortunately called out as absurd immediately). He befriends the gym teacher (Thomas) and takes to the nuts and bolts of teaching, but gets frustrated with his students and has to connect with them. He does that, of course, by pointing out how classical music arrangements get used in rock music, and helps a young clarinet player (Witt) play by teaching her to enjoy it.

The movie tracks his life and career from the mid-60s to the mid-90s, whereupon the school district cuts funding for music and the arts entirely (because of course they fucking do), and he retires, but his past and present students surprise him with a performance of his original symphony. His "opus," then, is the education and the passion he gave his students, which is lovely.

So, there are any number of "teacher inspires students" movies out there, and some of them are glurgey as shit, but this one avoids the worst of the treacle and I think the reason for that is perspective. It doesn't present Holland as a teacher swooping in to save one class, it presents him with an arc as a teacher, a husband, a father, and a musician, and it shows us the places where he fails and learns as well. Teaching is presented as hard not because the kids are pains in the ass (though there is that), but because it's hard and he has to learn to do it.

If I have a complaint, it's the subplot with Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly). She's a student who captivates him with her singing talent and then asks him to run away with him to New York, and like, if the point of the arc was that she made him nostalgic for his life as a musician before he became a teacher, OK. If the point of the arc is that she's tempting him into an affair, errrgh, less OK. I don't think it read, in the movie, like he was really tempted by her so much as what she represented about what he'd lost (or aged out of it, anyway) in his own life, but then he lies to his wife about who "Rowena" is, and then the whole subplot kinda peters out and we never see Rowena again. Dunno, felt clumsy.

Dreyfuss' performance is great; he's dry, bitter, entitled at points, but willing to learn and embrace love as he gets older and wiser. Headly's performance as his wife is also good, especially as she expresses her anguish over not being able to communicate with her deaf son. Olympia Dukakis is fun as the wise and fair principal, Macy is smarmy and infuriating as her replacement. All in all it's a very solid drama.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Mr. Nice Guy