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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mr. Holland's Opus is a 1997 movie in which Richard Dreyfuss plays an inspired and inspiring high school music teacher. The movie should inspire discussion amongst families about the importance of teachers as well as the importance of music education at a time when arts programs are being slashed in schools all over the country. Occasional mild profanity, including "a--hole," both spoken and communicated through ASL. Some cigarette smoking. The film includes a subplot in which Mr. Holland and a high school senior are obviously attracted to each other -- he composes a song in her honor, and she asks him to leave with her on the bus for New York City. Overall, this movie shows how much positive impact a great teacher can have on the lives of individual students, as well as the community at large.
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What's the story?
In MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS, Richard Dreyfuss plays Glenn Holland, a young, aspiring composer and musician who takes a position teaching a high school music class in hopes of saving enough money to play as a career. When Glenn's wife (Glenne Headly) unexpectedly gets pregnant, reality sets in. He must put his dreams on hold and remain a teacher indefinitely. Over time, Glenn finds that he enjoys teaching and being a father. His worst fear is realized, however, when he learns that his son is deaf. Unable to accept his son's disability, Holland throws himself into his work, preferring to connect with his students instead of his own family. Eventually, Holland comes around, acknowledging his faults, and makes amends by designing a concert that both hearing and non-hearing audience members can enjoy. In the film's highly emotional climax, Glenn finally grasps the magnitude of his influence, as three generations of former students come together to honor him.
Is it any good?
Mr. Holland's Opus offers a poignant (albeit sappy) look at personal sacrifice, responsibility, and the impact teachers can have on students beyond the classroom. It's less Stand and Deliver, more It's a Wonderful Life. Richard Dreyfuss gives the performance of his career as the wily, often frustrated Glenn Holland, breathing life into a character that could easily have fallen into caricature territory.
The film as a whole isn't perfect. In its effort to portray Glenn as a flawed individual, the lengthy script sometimes goes too far, especially in regard to his inappropriate relationship with a student and his blatant disregard of Cole's social development. Despite these imperfections the movie is definitely worth watching, particularly during those moments of inspiration when Holland discovers his love of teaching.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about coping with disability, teachers who make a difference, and the importance of arts and music education.
Mr. Holland makes a crack to his friend, the football coach of the high school where they teach, that school boards will never cut funding to the football team, and if they do, "then we'll know we're in real trouble." Do you think this statement is accurate? How does this movie reflect the realities of recent decades, in which many communities have eliminated art and music programs altogether, while seldom if ever cutting funding to the football team?
This movie covers the 30-year career of Mr. Holland, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s. What are some of the ways in which the movie shows the cultural shifts in teenagers and America at large during that time?
- In theaters: January 17, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: August 24, 1999
- Cast: Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss
- Director: Stephen Herek
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: High School, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 143 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild language
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