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Mr. Holland's Opus is a 1995 drama film, directed by Stephen Herek. It was partly intended as a remake of a previous film, "Follow Me, Boys!" (1966) but ended up very different. Among the most significant changes was the historical era covered. The original film was set in the 1930s and 1940s, this one covers a period of thirty years (1965-1995).
The film opens in 1965 with Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) as a professional musical performer who wants to turn his efforts to composing a piece of orchestral music, something he intends as his Magnum Opus. Needing a job that pays enough to support himself and his wife Iris (Glenne Headly), yet leaves enough free time to compose music, Holland accepts a position as a high school music teacher. He soon discovers the position leaves him firmly at the bottom of the hierarchy of teachers. And as his apathy for the job starts to become apparent, Principal Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis) starts demanding more actual effort from him.
The film then follows his life over the course of the following decades. His domestic problems include his only son Cole being effectively deaf and unable to understand his father's work. Iris forms a strong bond with the boy and learns sign language to better communicate. Glenn, however, can't bring himself to do it and ends up somewhat estranged from his own family. Meanwhile, his school life includes more than teaching music. He inspires troubled students to make something of themselves, change their lives for the better.
By 1995, has spend most of his last three decades devoted to his students, at the cost of his personal life. His musical work is still incomplete and by now unlikely to ever see release. Even if completed, he is too old to re-establish his career. Then his life turns for the worst. New principal Gene Wolters (William H Macy), who never cared for Holland anyway, decides to make necessary budget cuts. Among the first things to go are the music classes, leaving 60-year-old Holland unemployed. Holland fears he has wasted his life, and resigns himself to the fate of being forgotten by all those students he helped over the years.
Instead, he finds many of his former students have returned to help him complete his magnum opus and perform it for the first time, pointing out that their lives were made better because of him. It was time to repay the favor. The film ends with his family along with an entire auditorium of his students, both past and present, who have gathered to witness the aging Mr. Holland conduct his masterpiece.
The film earned Dreyfus an Oscar nomination for the Best Actor and a Golden Globe award. It was also a considerable box office hit, earning $106,269,971 in the international market. With almost 83 million from the United States market, it was the 12th most successful film of its year. Michael Kamen who wrote some of the original music of the film went on to found "The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation" devoted to "enabling more students to participate and experience a quality music education".
- Book Ends: The beginning of the film has Mr. Holland conducting his opus that was in his head. The ending has him conducting it for real.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Stadler, one of Mr. Holland's students he helps. He eventually turns around after attending Lou Russ' funeral with Mr. Holland.
- Call Back: During the Lou Russ segment, one boy in the band empties his spit valve on the shoe of the girl next to him. At the final Orchestra, he repeats this.
- Dress Code: There is a scene where the principal sees that two girls are wearing skirts that are too short, so he sends them home.
- Drives Like Crazy: Mr. Holland takes a summer job as an instructor of student drivers. Ironically, one scene has him doing the crazy driving with two of his visibly worried students as passengers. He ignores traffic signs and signals, passes other cars on the right side, and even traverses a one-way street in the wrong direction, all while going well above the speed limit. The reason for this insane driving is revealed when Mr. Holland reaches his destination: it's the local hospital, where his wife had given birth to their son shortly before he got there.
- Era Establishing Scene: One of these follows each major time skip in the story.
- Father To His Students: Mr. Holland becomes one of these over time as he helps all his students out. They repay the love at the end.
- I Minored in Tropology: It becomes a minor plot point that that the school's physical education teacher "minored in modern dance"
- The Muse: Mr. Holland is inspired by student Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly) and begins writing music again.
- Odd Couple: Mr. Hollands' closest friend ends up being the gym teacher Bill Meister.
- Popcultural Osmosis/Pop Cultural Osmosis Failure: When John Lennon is assassinated (yes, that does come up in the film), Holland is surprised to find out that Lennon means something to his deaf son.
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Coach Meister to the badly marching Marching Band.
Meister: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Coach Meister. Your marching buddy.
- Real Men Wear Pink: The football coach minored in Modern Dance in college and choreographs the big dance number in the school musical. He also shrewdly uses it, because people will be expecting his football players, who he trains for the play, to be stumbling all over the stage and will come for the spectacle... but be blown away by the dancing.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Coach Meister gives one to Mr. Holland when Holland says he cannot teach Lou Russ, a willing eager student.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: The auditions for the musical are classic. "We've been at this all day, and the only ingenue we seem to have is Todd Markham!"
- To the Tune Of: It is pointed out that "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys uses the sweet strains of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Minuet in G" stretched to four-quarter time.
- Took a Level In Badass: Roger Ebert remarked that the band at the beginning started playing Beethovens Eighth symphony and you could barely recognize it. By the climax Mr. Holland had a band formed from his students that would rival any orchestra.
- The Vietnam War: It is in the background of the eras and where Louis Russ, the black student who drums, died.