Ordinary People (1980)
usnook | 2013-05-31 10:59

Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama film that marked the directorial debut of Robert Redford. It stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton.

The story concerns the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the death of one of their sons in a boating accident. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent was based upon the 1976 novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest.

The film was a critical and commercial success, winning four Oscars, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The Jarretts are an upper-middle-class family in suburban Chicago trying to return to normal life after the death of one teenage son and the attempted suicide of their surviving son Conrad (Timothy Hutton). Conrad has recently returned home from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital. He feels alienated from his friends and family and begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch). Berger learns that Conrad was involved in a sailing accident in which his older brother Buck, whom everyone idolized, died. Conrad now deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt.

Conrad's father Calvin (Donald Sutherland) awkwardly tries to connect with his surviving son and understand his wife. Conrad's mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) denies her loss, hoping to maintain her composure and restore her family to what it once was. She appears to have loved her elder son more (though perhaps more what he represented), 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 (Elizabeth McGovern), 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, including Stillman (Adam Baldwin), with whom he gets into a fist fight. He cannot seem to allow anyone, especially Beth, to get close. Beth makes several constrained attempts to appeal to Conrad for some semblance of normality, but Conrad again rebuffs her.

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. Afterward, 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, "You would have visited Buck if he was in the hospital." Beth replies, "Buck would have never been in the hospital." Beth and Calvin take a trip to see Beth’s brother in Houston, where Calvin confronts Beth, calling her out on her attitude. In a moment of utter rage, Beth shouts at Calvin, "Why can't you see my side?" and "What kind of mother doesn’t love her son?" It is a public outburst underlining the depth of what a normally, overtly repressed Beth is suffering.

Conrad suffers a setback when he learns that Karen (Dinah Manoff), a friend of his from the psychiatric hospital, has committed suicide. A cathartic breakthrough session with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to stop blaming himself for Buck's death and accept his mother's frailties. Calvin, however, emotionally confronts Beth one last time. He questions their love and asks whether she is capable of truly loving anyone. Stunned, Beth decides to flee her family rather than deal with her own, or their, emotions. Calvin and Conrad are left to come to terms with their new family situation.

Robert Redford and Timothy Hutton both won Academy Awards for their respective debuts: Redford as Best Director and Hutton as Best Supporting Actor. 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 role was well received and obtained a nomination for Best Actress. The film also won Best Picture for 1980.

Judd Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger was likewise a departure from his work on the sitcom Taxi, and has drawn praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in film, although some consider his portrayal to be too positive, thus lending an air of one-dimensionality. Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to co-star Hutton. Donald Sutherland's performance in the film was also well received and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. He was not nominated for an Academy Award along with his co-stars, however, which today is considered one of the worst acting snubs in the history of the Academy Awards. Ordinary People launched the career of Elizabeth McGovern, who received special permission to film while attending Juilliard. 1980 was also a break-out year for Adam Baldwin, who had a small role in Ordinary People while starring in My Bodyguard the same year.

Ordinary People received very positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert gave it four stars, calling it "one of the year's best films, probably of the decade" and later named it the fifth best film of the year 1980.[citation needed]

Pachelbel's Canon, used as thematic and background music, enjoyed a surge in popularity as a result. It has remained popular since then.

The film was a box office success, grossing $54 million at theaters and $23 million in rentals.

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