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ordinary people

ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)

An extraordinary movie, Ordinary People tells the story of the troubled Jarrett family, still struggling to cope with the death of their eldest son. Robert Redford directed and won an Oscar for it; Mary Tyler Moore earned an Oscar nomination for her searing portrayal of a repressed mother, emotionally bereft after the loss of her favorite son. A very young Timothy Hutton is excellent as the younger son. Highly recommended.

The cast includes: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, Timothy Hutton, M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth McGovern, Dinah Manoff, Frederic Lehme, and Scott Doelder.

Screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on novel by Judith Guest.

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The Jarrett family, Donald, Beth and their teenage son, Conrad, struggle to pull themselves back together and move on with their lives, minus the presence of the much-loved eldest son, Buck, who was tragically killed in a sailing accident during a family trip.

It is said that a death of a child in a family can cause hard to repair cracks in already flawed relationships between people. This powerful, moving psychological drama, by the talented Alvin Sargent, (based on Judith Guest's novel) is a character study that explores the grieving family's disrupted family dynamics, and the worsening of already existing problems caused by not only the death of Mom Beth's favorite eldest son, Buck, but also the attempted suicide of his guilt-ridden younger brother, Conrad, who also adored Buck, and unjustly blames himself for the accident.

While Beth and her son, Conrad, had always had somewhat of a problem connecting emotionally and verbally, Beth finds it nearly impossible to reach out to her hurting, surviving son, being angry at him for a variety of reasons, which leaves Conrad's Dad, soft-spoken, mellow Calvin (Donald Sutherland) in the middle, trying to keep things under control by doing his best to support and love Conrad, and support and love his wife at the same time. The arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas applies more stress to these people, and something has to pop.

If this family is to survive, all three must grow in understanding of themselves, & what Buck's death meant to them, forgive themselves and each other, in order to be able to live with their loss and continue their lives together. Some can overcome personal tragedy, and some can't.

Calvin gives his son the name of a psychiatrist, Dr.Berger (Jud Hirsch), a referral that was suggested by the staff at the mental facility Conrad stayed in after trying to kill himself. After several gentle proddings by his father, Conrad starts to see Dr. Berger, who is instrumental in getting the emotionally mixed-up Conrad to get a handle on not only his brother's death, but the realities existing in his own life; things he has control over, and things that he doesn't.

At the beginning of the film, the audience is given just the basic information, as given insights to the various characters and their problems come gradually throughout the story through various incidents, facial expressions, body movements, observed behavior, and things said and unsaid. As the story continues, the emotional intensity and stress increases as the film develops full characterizations of its main characters as they struggle with situations and themselves.

Under the sensitive, gifted, focused direction of Robert Redford, the marvelous cast gave the performances of their lives, which were "vividly descriptive and entirely convincing"; as they gave the very best of themselves into the parts of this powerful, unrelenting screenplay, which is both emotionally and mentally exhausting, but makes a most satisfying drama.

Mary Tyler Moore, who was nominated and should have won the Best Actress Oscar, was absolutely superb as the perfectionist, emotionally stymied mother, Beth Jarrett, who prefers to run away from difficult problems and doesn't like messes of any kind. She absolutely adored her fun-loving, outgoing son, Buck, who she could easily relate to. Buck's untimely death compounded her own emotional baggage and inability to handle unpleasant realities, or help anyone else who is hurting as much as she is.

20 year old Timothy Hutton's brilliant performance as Conrad earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His portrayal of this grief-stricken, emotionally troubled teenager ignites the audience's emotions, and makes the story not only believable, but intensely gripping.

Donald Sutherland's portrayal of soft spoken Calvin Jarrett is one of his best performances, and he holds his own with both Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton. His character is caught in the middle of the emotional / communication fracture between Beth and Conrad, as well as finding himself in a loveless, deteriorating marriage, with a woman who at the moment, can't show love anymore. He does his best to reach out and help each of them, in an effort to calm things down, trying to mend his family back to normalcy.

Jud Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger also earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He is very convincing and effective as the shrink who helps both Calvin and Conrad cope with things and see the truth in their situations.

My favorite sequence of scenes with Dr. Berger and Conrad has to be when Conrad receives some very bad news about his friend, Karen. Conrad frantically calls up Dr. Berger late at night, and meets him at the Doctor's office for a session where Conrad has an explosive psychic melt-down, and Dr. Berger is able to get to the heart of Conrad's guilt and anger.

"Ordinary People" is a classic, powerful psychological drama, that is mentally and emotionally riveting, for the over 17 crowd.

Quote: "Love, Suicide, Blame, Guilt etc; Ordinary People treated all of these themes in a tasteful and mostly accurate way. - Norman Dador

 

If you enjoyed ORDINARY PEOPLE you may like I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN, GOODWILL HUNTING, ONE TRUE THING, WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, ANALYZE THIS, and the 1976 TV movie SYBIL.