Release Year: 1980
Director: Robert Redford
Writers: Alvin Sargent (screenplay), Judith Guest (based on her 1976 novel Ordinary People)
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch, Elizabeth McGovern, M. Emmet Walsh, Dinah Manoff, Fredric Lehne,
Rating: Won 4 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), Best Adapted Screenplay. Nominated for 2 Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Mary Tyler Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Judd Hirsch). Won 5 Golden Globes: Best Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actress – Drama (Mary Tyler Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), Best New Star of the Year – Male (Timothy Hutton). Nominated for 3 Golden Globes: Best Actor -Drama (Donald Sutherland), Best Supporting Actor (Judd Hirsch), Best Screenplay.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #320, week 34 2020
The accidental death of the older son and attempted suicide of the younger son in an upper middle class family, deeply strains the relationship between the bitter and emotionally distant mother, the kindhearted father, and the guilt-ridden son struggling to keep himself together.
Most of us are familiar with the inner workings and dynamics of family, and many us have been or will be touched by deep grief. So the family drama is a subgenre with close to universal appeal. The 1980 Best Picture winner at the Oscars, Ordinary People, is arguably one of the best. The film marks two notable débuts; it is the film début of a very young Timothy Hutton (Kinsey, 2004) who gives an astounding performance as the younger son Conrad. Furthermore, it is the directorial début of Robert Redford (The Horse Whisperer, 1998). A strong début which earned him his only Oscar to date. Based on a novel released a few years prior, Ordinary People follows an ordinary, if rather affluent, family through an extraordinary crisis. Hutton’s Conrad tries to get his life back together and reluctant goes to see a psychiatrist to get himself more “in control”. Hirsch (A Beautiful Mind, 2001) is also great as the sympathetic psychiatrist who gives Conrad a life line to cling on to as his parent’s marriage slowly begins to show crack under the strain of their grief. Sutherland (Don’t Look Now, 1973) as the father, and especially, Moore (Change of Habit, 1969) in a rare film apperance both impress with two very different and very nuanced portrayal. The film is wonderfully directed and is full of characters that simply feel like real people working through very complex emotions. If you haven’t seen this, we highly recommend it, but do remember the tissues.
Elizabeth McGovern, another débutant, was a student at Juilliard in New York at the time of filming. She was allowed to leave the scool during the weekends so all of her scenes had to be shot on saturdays. She was the first student at Juilliard to be allowed to shoot a film while in school.
Redford originally considered Richard Dreyfuss for the role of the psychiatrist, but when Redford called him about the part, Drayfuss said: “I can’t talk to you right now, I’m having a nervous breakdown,” and hung up the phone.
According to Timothy Hutton, Redford told the other actors and crew not to help him and play into his inexperience so he could feel isolated and unhelped like his character.