Mr. Holland's Opus

on December 29, 1995 by Jon Silberg
   Perched precariously above a pit of maudlin sentiment that it deftly avoids thanks to brilliant execution, "Mr. Holland's Opus" is the saga of a high school teacher who fails to realize all the ways he's touched his students' lives through his decades-long career. What could have been cloying characters if vivified by lesser talents gather grace and effervescence in the hands of Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly and supporters Jay Thomas and Olympia Dukakis.
   The film opens in the early 1960s with Glenn Holland (Dreyfuss) set to embark on a career as a composer, his wife (Headly) at his side. When prosaic financial considerations declare themselves, Holland accepts a "temporary" post teaching music at a local high school. The vignettes that follow cover his many years teaching (making a difference, shaping young lives, etc.) and coping with marital strains after a son is born deaf i.e., living a life altogether different from the one he so eagerly foresaw.
   The film has an episodic structure--something between that of "Forrest Gump" and "Same Time, Next Year"--and occasionally falls back on footage of historical events to help define the characters' lives. But it's a rare film that pays homage not to a superhuman hero but to a very human one who's forced by circumstances to make the limited best of his resources. Like its protagonist, "Mr. Holland's Opus" triumphs.    Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas and Olympia Dukakis. Directed by Stephen Herek. Written by Patrick Sheane Duncan. Produced by Ted Field, Michael Nolin and Robert W. Cort. A Buena Vista release. Rated PG for mild language. Running time: 143 min.
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