Mr. Holland's Opus ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I should have checked my records first; if I had waited just three more days, I would have watched this on the 19th anniversary of when I saw it during its original theatrical run (my only previous viewing). At that time, I was still a high school student myself. I've come back to it now a little bit older than Mr. Holland at the outset of the story. In the intervening years, several of my friends have gone into the admirable vocation of teaching, including a few who teach music and band. I myself had planned to teach history, until the incompatibility of Crohn's dissuaded me.

I remember leaving the theater and feeling that I had just seen the best movie since I had started going to the Oldham 8 four months earlier. I had never really paid any attention to movie awards, but I'd have voted for it for Best Picture then and there. The Academy disagreed with me, but Richard Dreyfuss was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role so there's that.

Watching the film, uh, tonight (I started shortly after midnight), I was surprised by how vividly I recalled much of it despite my one viewing being long enough ago that it could buy cigarettes and Playboy today. I've become far more astute and discerning about movies. For instance, I paid little heed then to how superficially the film invokes its demarcations of history. We see footage of Dr. King in a sweeping montage, but despite a prominent African-American student in that section, the film says not a single word about the civil rights movement.

This is history-as-background, which is fine I suppose, but it seems to defy, or at least undermine, the film's own explicit argument that people should be engaged by their world rather than misconstrue the retention of trivia as knowledge. The murder of John Lennon is the exception; that section is very well handled.

My chief problem with the film is its management of time, specifically in relation to the Holland family dynamics. I can't tell if this film should have been condensed into a shorter time period (which, I understand, would have cut into the overarching theme of his symphonic composition), or if it should have been expanded, perhaps as a TV mini-series.

There's a sense that each time we check in with them that we're picking up the same theme as the last scene, but sometimes an entire decade has elapsed. Glenn Headley has some fine scenes - especially when toddler Cole is frustrated and she breaks down alongside him - but Iris is a poorly developed character.

The other key example of this is the middle section in 1980/1981 in which Mr. Holland mentors Rowena. The groundwork is laid for some solid drama, but the film abdicates any consequences of that passage. How did her parents react to finding out she had run off to New York? Did it ever come to light that Mr. Holland had known and even set her up with his friends? It's implied that the boy who interrupts their rehearsal might be a boyfriend of hers; how did he react? Did he piece together that she had a thing for her teacher? For that matter, what became of Rowena? Her absence in the finale is conspicuous.

There are some terrific individual scenes and passages. I love pretty much everything about the first ~40 minutes, up through the funeral, as Mr. Holland gets his bearings and begins to make the connections between his students, music, and himself. Likewise, the aforementioned scenes in which Iris expresses her frustration at not being able to communicate with Cole and the aftermath of the murder of John Lennon are both compelling. And I give credit to Jean Louisa Kelly, for so perfectly playing the role of Rowena at such a forward-looking crossroads in her young life; she carries that entire section of the film.

Production Featurette (4:55) *
Oh, nascent DVD bonus content. You never fail to disappoint. This is a glorified trailer for the film, with a few interjected on-camera remarks from its principles. Completely skippable.

Film Recommendations
"If you enjoyed this film here are some other recommendations": Dead Poets Society, Marvin's Room, Good Will Hunting, Simon Birch, Brassed Off!, White Squall. Might be fun some time to go through and watch those and relate them to this one.

Mr. Holland's Opus Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#601/1610)

Mr. Holland's Opus > 50 First Dates --> #601
Mr. Holland's Opus < The Thief of Bagdad --> #601
Mr. Holland's Opus > Adventureland --> #601
Mr. Holland's Opus < Breathless --> #601
Mr. Holland's Opus > The Dream Team --> #552
Mr. Holland's Opus < The Sound of Music --> #552
Mr. Holland's Opus < Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen --> #552
Mr. Holland's Opus < The Savages (2007) --> #552
Mr. Holland's Opus > The Devil and Daniel Webster --> #538

Mr. Holland's Opus was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #538/1610

1995 Academy Awards (68th)
(N) ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE -- Richard Dreyfuss {"Glenn Holland"}