The late John Lennon penned the lyric, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." No film in recent memory has illustrated that truth with more warmth and wit than the genuinely uplifting Mr. Holland's Opus.
This charming motion picture opens in 1965 with one man's dream. More than anything in the world, 30-year-old Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) wants to write a symphony. But while he has all the talent required, time comes at a premium.
A musician coming off the wedding and barmitzvah circuit, Holland needs full-time employment and lands what he thinks is a "temporary gig" as a high school music teacher. As he spends untold hours preparing lessons, connecting with students, organizing a marching band, directing the school musical and teaching driver's ed during the summer for extra cash, his unfinished symphony collects dust.
Several years go by. Holland's life is further complicated when his infant son is found to be almost entirely deaf. Unable to draw the child into his musical world, he struggles to communicate and find common ground. Professional responsibilities consume him. "Spare time" is a myth. And his symphony—along with his neglected family—waits patiently in the wings.
A montage of '60s and '70s newsreel footage marks the passage of time. Graduating classes come and go. Holland's frustration mounts as the daily grind continues to distract him from zealously pursuing his musical masterpiece. But a revelation waits around the corner where Glenn Holland comes to realize that those constant interruptions to his lifelong ambition are themselves the stuff dreams are made of. Bonding with his only son. Inspiring two generations of students. During Holland's 30-year journey, which concludes in the present, many lives are miraculously transformed—none more dramatically than his own.
In addition, the movie promotes a solid work ethic, the importance of the arts in education and balance in life—between passions and priorities, talent and effort, knowledge and vision. During a particularly trying period, an attractive student's crush forces Holland to reevaluate his feelings and commitments, offering a valuable lesson about temptation and marital fidelity. Also, in a society where men seek fulfillment and rewards through what they produce, Holland learns that true success lies in relationships.
But Opus isn't all heartstrings and hankies. It's also quite humorous. In one scene, Holland goes to hilarious lengths to help an athlete develop rhythm to play the drums. Also, during a driver's ed lesson, his panicked student jumps a curb and parks in a flower bed. Instead of flying off the handle, the teacher calmly asks, "Okay, what have we learned from this?"
Adults might ask the same question of their teenagers after viewing this thought-provoking film together. Occasional profanity notwithstanding, mature audiences will find Mr. Holland's Opus brimming with valuable discussion material.