Back in the nineties, I used to be good pals with Bob Zemeckis. One day we were trying out some new Doritos flavors when he said, “That Forrest Gump movie I did is doing some pretty good biz.” Then he started choking and I patted him on the back, saving his life again (long story). After thanking me, he continued with what he was saying earlier. “So anyway, Forrest Gump. I think you outta rip it off.”
“Bob, you old fool,” I said. “I already have. It’s called Mr. Holland’s Opus and it’s about a teacher named Holland’s Opus and instead of retards, mine’s chock-full of band nerds.”
Old Bob looks at me, his eyes all watery, and stutters his way through the following accolade: “Sam, you’re a genius. I’ll never try to tell you your business again.”
I put my cigarette out in his bean dip. “Bet your ass, asshole.”
So there’s this guy with no mustache and his name is Holland’s Opus. Opus is sort of a mixture of classically-trained musician and Holiday Inn Rock n’ Roller. He’s got a deceptively meek wife who tells him to quit with the fun already and settle down. She tricks him under the pretense that if he gets a full-time job as a high school music teacher, he’ll somehow have more time to crap out this massive piece of music he’s been eating for breakfast everyday. Because Holland’s Opus doesn’t have his mustache yet, he believes her.
Whoops! Looks like Opus fucked up. As is turns out, working forty-plus hours a week sucks a lot more than driving three hours, playing one, and then being off for another forty-eight. Somebody shoulda told him: “If you can’t write in an environment of zero responsibility, then you can’t write at all, dumbass.”
Sensing her husband’s discontent, Mrs. Holland’s Opus pokes holes into her birth control pills and gets pregnant. When he doesn’t act ecstatic about the news, she goes CODE RED and runs crying to her bed. Poor Holland’s Opus cannot withstand such an attack on his new sensitive male-ness. Through Iago-like precision, she soon has him giving up his cherished summers off–the only actual perk to being a high school teacher–so he can instead bring in more domesticated bling as a driving instructor.
In case you haven’t noticed, Mrs. Holland’s Opus is the main mover and shaker of the film. Systematically, she strips Mr. Holland’s Opus of every possible outlet for his own happiness. How cut-throat is she? Well, I’d say her masterstroke is giving her music-loving husband a kid who is FUCKING DEAF.
Normally, that kind of tragic irony would end a movie. Guy loves music, has son who can’t hear, they butt heads, one of them dies while the other realizes what was lost. But since I was aiming at some of that Forrest Gump superiority, I had to fill the edges of the film with some above and beyond bullshit.
So while Opus teaches the kids how to “play the sunset,” he occasionally looks out his classroom window to catch glimpses of America’s innocence riding off into the sunset forever. As this happens, a mustache finally begins to grow, and Holland’s Opus slowly becomes Richard Dreyfuss, quite possibly the greatest illustration of how young radicals slowly transform into your Republican grandparents (Dennis Hopper was unavailable).
Dreyfuss’ mustache matures with the times so much that when he finally gets off work again, it’s full-on Wyatt Earp. He shuts the door and immediately his wife is yelling at him and his kid is signing at him with the fury of a hyperactive ninja. Dreyfuss is not in the fucking mood. He shuts them both up with a horizontal wave of his baton. “What’s up your ass?” his kid signs.
“I’m pissed off because John Lennon was murdered today.” The kid looks at him confused. “Nevermind,” Dreyfuss adds. “You wouldn’t understand.”
This really pisses the kid off. He signs so hard that he hits his own chin. “Just cause I can’t hear music, doesn’t mean I don’t understand the social significance of what has happened! Asshole!” (BTW, the sign for “asshole” looks quite a bit like an asshole. Way to go Helen Keller!)
Dreyfuss tries to respond, but the kid defiantly shuts his eyes, which is the deaf teenager version of saying “Whatever”. At this point, Dreyfuss looks at the camera and says, “I forgot how to play the sunset,” and a tear rolls down into his mustache, which bristles and starts to shrink.
But then his wife steps up to the plate. “I need money for Yoga. And Botox. An diet pills. And stress pills for living with you. All you do is teach. We need to hire a maid because you haven’t been doing the laundry and dishes lately. And why aren’t you wearing that dress I made you buy yourself for your birthday?” The teardrop rolls back up into his eye and the mustache regrows itself, only bigger.
“You know,” he says, adjusting his glasses with his tongue sticking half-out because he’s Richard Fucking Dreyfuss and he’s about to drop a bomb. “This ain’t the 1950’s anymore. If you want money for all that shit, you could have gotten a job twenty years ago!”
He then dramatically raises his baton and hundreds of people, young and old alike, barge into the house like a nerdy S.W.A.T team and carry Dreyfuss to safety. Some are poets. Some of them are politicians. Some are even teachers now themselves. But all of them have been touched and moved by Mr. Holland’s Opus’ magnificent ability to share with them how to “play the sunset,” and they proceed to tattoo the “sunset” onto his wife’s perfect little life. Afterwords, they all go downtown to Opus’ “crash pad” where they drink until they’re all the same age: the age of enlightenment.
Beat THAT Lieutenant Dan!