USA / 1995
Director: Stephen Herek
Writer: Patrick Sheane Duncan
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headley, Jay Thomas
Richard Dreyfuss received a much-merited Best Actor Oscar nomination for his noteworthy performance in this delightful movie from the director of 101 Dalmatians . “Few movies today go for the heart as unerringly as Mr Holland’s Opus,” Alexander Walker wrote in the Evening Standard , adding, “Stephen Herek and Patrick Sheane Duncan, director and writer, hit the right place again and again with the story of a music teacher in an Oregon high school over 30 years.” The Daily Mail concurred, noting that “this is the kind of highly emotional, put-a-lump-in-their-throat-and-keep-it-there movie that fell out of fashion in the ’60s. Now it’s back and cinema is the richer for it.”
Although the film has been compared to Goodbye Mr Chips (because it’s about a schoolteacher) and It’s A Wonderful Life (because it’s about a man who has to stay behind and never gets to follow his dream), Mr Holland’s Opus is actually a unique movie that encompasses many themes. Richard Dreyfuss plays the eponymous Glenn Holland, a would-be composer who accepts a job at an American high school in the mid-60s, thinking it will allow him the time he needs to work on his compositions. The film charts Mr Holland’s subsequent progress, from difficult beginnings to the moment when he becomes attuned to the pupils around him. With Mr Holland becoming increasingly lost in music, he starts to neglect his family: wife Iris (Glenne Headley) and son Cole (played by three different actors as he ages from six to 28), who is deaf. With his son unable to share his great passion, how will the music teacher learn to communicate?
Whether it’s highlighting the joys of sax or depicting the frustrations of a dreamer trapped by reality, Mr Holland’s Opus is a life-affirming movie. Unashamedly sentimental in places, it’s a highly effective and moving drama with a remarkable performance from Dreyfuss, who superbly captures the highs and lows over 30 years of one man’s life.