Mr. Holland’s Opus

Mr. Holland may not be making the impact he’d like after five months with his students, but what he holds back at school, he makes certain to deliver at home. Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) remarks solemnly about his wife’s Big News that having a baby is “like falling in love with John Coltrane all over again.” We instantly know what a perfect couple the two are because she seems not only to understand this statement but to be cheered up that it’s the only reason he looked so depressed when she told him to begin with.

We should get something straight before moving on: Mr. Holland never wanted to be a teacher. This guy had dreams. He had this symphony he’d been working on for, oh, what was it? Years, maybe. So, what do you do when the Big Time isn’t panning out for you and your students are all falling asleep with their eyes open at your lectures? You get a pep talk from your wife, Iris (Glenne Headly), and get serious.

When the newly serious Mr. Holland asks Young Pig Tails Girl (Alicia Witt) what she likes best about herself and she replies “my hair…my father always says that it reminds him of a sunset” and Mr. Holland, in order to tear down the walls that years of practice simply couldn’t, says, completely seriously, “play the sunset,” I was reminded of the “think” method Harold Hill taught in The Music Man. In The Music Man, I thought the dramatic unveiling of Hill’s work was a perfect solution to what shouldn’t have been and wasn’t allowed to happen in that story that I like a lot. Mr. Holland, fortunately (for him), never saw The Music Man. So, as in a Chuck Jones cartoon, the rules of logic don’t apply to him or his teachings and his “think” method soars.

I realize that all of this may sound overly harsh for a film with such a big heart, but I have a point and the point is that it is possible for a movie to have too big of a heart. Take this movie for example. This movie’s heart is so big that I’ve renamed it Heartzilla. One way or another, Heartzilla is going to make you cry. If Heartzilla has to rampage through the Tokyo of each and every audience-member’s base sentimentality, Heartzilla will do so. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so hard on it if I too hadn’t succumbed to its terrible wrath. To be sure, it had its entire weight on me, both arms pinned, and my face crammed into the pavement, but, damn it, I succumbed.

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