Monday, November 15, 2004

Mr. Duncan's Fine Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus. 2005. Dir. Stephen Herek. Perf. Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas, Olympia Dukakis , William H. Macy, Alicia Witt, Terrence Dashon Howard, Damon Whitaker, Jean Louisa Kelly.

Mr. Holland (Dreyfuss) is a musician who dreams of composing. His house is littered with staff paper and random musical scribbles, and his wife, pretty and relatively charming, fully intends to support him as best she can. Holland takes a job as a music teacher at a local high school, intending to save for a few years and then write full-time. Fate, however, intervenes. Soon, the young couple are moving into their first house and expecting a young son. Baby Cole is raised on music from conception until the day when he is pronounced dear. Holland withdraws into his school and his music, while his wife desperately struggles to balance the two egos in her household.

As might be expected, the film incorporates a great deal of music, both classical and popular, into its soundtrack, creating a charming blend of haunting melodies, familiar classical pieces, and rock standards. The cinematography is subtle, as the director apparently chose to focus more on the phenomenal story of a man learning to love his work, his family, and his life than on camera angles and cheap tricks, and the result is supremely satisfying. Duncan's story eases from sentimentality into humanity, bringing to the screen a strong script and the actors to carry it through, both verbally and in sign language.

The film is sentimental. It has a point to make, it tries to make the viewer feel Mr. Holland's struggles, and it occasionally takes sentiment or scenes a trifle too far past reality. Even without its emotional moments, however, it provides a clean, family film with some clear values and the theme of changing lives. Not bad for Hollywood.

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