We gave it an A-
Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a great high school music teacher, but he’s no saint. He’s a showboating nerd, too cynical — and too snowed under by responsibility — to wear a halo. When he first arrives at John F. Kennedy High School in 1964, he’s not interested in teaching. He’s a musician — a composer, damn it — but with a wife (Glenne Headly) to support, and so he takes what he thinks will be an easy day job. Instead, he’s sucked in — by the thankless hours, and by the desperate mediocrity of most of his students. Mr. Holland’s Opus is a big, patchy, episodic weeper set against the postwar rise and fall of America’s secondary-school music programs. The film, which spans 30 years and is patterned after It’s a Wonderful Life, has a dozen lump-in-the-throat climaxes. Still, Dreyfuss gives his most vital performance in years. He shows us the extraordinary energy required of a high school teacher, and also the secret doubts about the life he’s chosen. By the end, we’ve seen so many sides of Holland that the film truly earns its sentimental epiphany, its celebration of one man’s middlebrow valor. In its cornball way, Mr. Holland’s Opus gets at how we’ve all felt about certain teachers in our lives, the ones who turned our heads around.