|Directed by||Robert Redford|
|Screenplay by||Alvin Sargent|
|Based on||Ordinary People|
by Judith Guest
|Produced by||Ronald L. Schwary|
Mary Tyler Moore
|Edited by||Jeff Kanew|
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$90 million|
Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama film directed by Robert Redford in his directorial debut. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent is based on the 1976 novel of the same name by Judith Guest. The film follows the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the accidental death of one of their two sons and the attempted suicide of the other. It stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton.
Ordinary People was released theatrically on September 19, 1980 by Paramount Pictures to critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Redford's direction, Sargent's screenplay, and the performances of the cast. The film, which grossed $90 million on a $6.2 million budget, was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 1980, and garnered six nominations at the 53rd Academy Awards, winning four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Hutton (the youngest recipient at age 20). In addition, the film won five awards at the 38th Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actress (Moore), Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton).
The Jarretts are an upper-middle-class family in suburban Chicago trying to return to normal life after the accidental death of their older teenage son, Buck, and the attempted suicide of their younger and surviving son, Conrad. Conrad, who has recently returned home from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, feels alienated from his friends and family and begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. Berger learns that Conrad was involved in the sailing accident that took the life of Buck, whom everyone idolized. Conrad now deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and seeks help from his psychiatrist.
Conrad's father, Calvin, tries to connect with his surviving son and understand his wife. Conrad's mother, Beth, denies her loss, hoping to maintain her composure and restore her family to what it once was. She appears to have loved her older son more, and because of the suicide attempt, has grown cold toward Conrad. She is determined to maintain the appearance of perfection and normality. Conrad works with Dr. Berger and learns to try to deal with, rather than control, his emotions. He starts dating a fellow student, Jeannine, who helps him to begin to regain a sense of optimism. Conrad, however, still struggles to communicate and re-establish a normal relationship with his parents and schoolmates. He cannot seem to allow anyone, especially Beth, to get close. Beth makes several guarded attempts to appeal to Conrad for some semblance of normality, but she ends up being cold toward him.
Mother and son often argue while Calvin tries to referee, generally taking Conrad's side for fear of pushing him over the edge again. Things come to a climax near Christmas when Conrad becomes furious at Beth for not wanting to take a photo with him, swearing at her in front of his grandparents. Afterwards, Beth discovers Conrad has been lying about his after-school whereabouts. This leads to a heated argument between Conrad and Beth in which Conrad points out that Beth never visited him in the hospital, saying that she "would have come if Buck was in the hospital." Beth replies, "Buck never would have been in the hospital!" Beth and Calvin take a trip to see Beth's brother in Houston, where Calvin confronts Beth about her attitude.
Conrad suffers a setback when he learns that Karen, a friend of his from the psychiatric hospital, has died by suicide. A cathartic breakthrough session with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to stop blaming himself for Buck's death and accept his mother's frailties. However, when Conrad tries to show affection, Beth is unresponsive, leading Calvin to emotionally confront her one last time. He questions their love and asks whether she is capable of truly loving anyone. Stunned, Beth packs her bags and goes back to Houston. Calvin and Conrad are left to come to terms with their new family situation, affirming their father-son love for each other.
- Donald Sutherland as Calvin Jarrett
- Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett
- Judd Hirsch as Tyrone C. Berger
- Timothy Hutton as Conrad Jarrett
- Elizabeth McGovern as Jeannine Pratt
- M. Emmet Walsh as Salan
- Dinah Manoff as Karen Aldrich
- Fredric Lehne as Joe Lazenby
- James Sikking as Ray Hanley
- Basil Hoffman as Sloan
- Quinn Redeker as Ward
- Mariclare Costello as Audrey
- Meg Mundy as Grandmother
- Elizabeth Hubbard as Ruth
- Adam Baldwin as Kevin Stillman
Ordinary People garnered four Oscars for 1980, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. The picture, Robert Redford's debut at directing, won him the Academy Award for Best Director. Alvin Sargent won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Timothy Hutton won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in his first film role (he had previously appeared on television).
The film marked Mary Tyler Moore's career breakout from the personality of her other two famous roles as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore's complex performance as the mother to Hutton's character was well-received and obtained a nomination for Best Actress. Donald Sutherland's performance as the father was also well received, and he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. He was not nominated for an Academy Award along with his co-stars, however, which Entertainment Weekly has described as one of the worst acting snubs in the history of the Academy Awards.
Judd Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger was a departure from his work on the sitcom Taxi, and drew praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in film. Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to co-star Hutton. Additionally, Ordinary People launched the career of Elizabeth McGovern who played Hutton's character's love interest, and who received special permission to film while attending Juilliard.
Ordinary People received critical acclaim. Roger Ebert gave it a full four stars and praised how the film's setting "is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. ... That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become." He later named it the fifth best film of the year 1980; while colleague Gene Siskel ranked it the second best film of 1980. Writing for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a moving, intelligent and funny film about disasters that are commonplace to everyone except the people who experience them."
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89%, based on 102 reviews, with an average rating of 8.50/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Robert Redford proves himself a filmmaker of uncommon emotional intelligence with Ordinary People, an auspicious debut that deftly observes the fractioning of a family unit through a quartet of superb performances."
Julia L. Hall, a journalist who has written extensively about narcissistic personality disorder, wrote in 2017 upon Moore's death that she "portrays her character's narcissism to a tee in turn after turn." She praised Moore for taking such a career risk so soon after having played such a memorable and likable character on television, "scaffolding gaping emptiness with a persona of perfection, supported by denial, blame, rejection, and rage."
Awards and nominations
- List of directorial debuts
- List of oldest and youngest Academy Award winners and nominees – Youngest winners for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
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