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Robert Redford's directorial debut ended up the 1980 Oscar winner for Best Picture. It is a simple but painfully emotional story of the disintegration of a "perfect" family. Teenager Conrad (Timothy Hutton) lives under a cloud of guilt after his brother drowns after their boat capsizes in Lake Michigan. Despite intensive therapy sessions with his psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch), Conrad can't shake the belief that he should have died instead of his brother; nor do his preoccupied parents (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore) offer much in the way of solace. The boy is brought out of his doldrums through his romance with Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern). A winner in every respect, Ordinary People (adapted from the novel by Judith Guest) scores highest in the scenes with Mary Tyler Moore, who superbly and perceptively portrays a blinkered, ever-smiling suburban wife and mother for whom outward appearance is all that matters.~Hal Erickson
I read the novel in High School, and loved every sentence of it. Everything was vivid, but simple. In fact, it was so good I read it a second and a third time.
I came upon this film version a while back, and decided to give it a chance. As anyone, I am weary of theatrical adaptations of literary works I have enjoyed. However, I turned on my TV, sat back and watched. I was captivated.
Never before had I seen a film so precisely capture, not only the story but, the essence of a novel. The adaptation was flawless, down to the last miniature detail. And, just as the book had done to me, I found myself wiping tears away.
Robert Redford directed his opus, a defining piece of his film-making career, and received an Oscar statuette as a result. The ability to create a suburban drama is difficult, and many directors tend to produce melodramatic films. Redford does not; he makes you believe everything - every tear, every empty gaze, every embrace. Only in fine hands can subject matter as this work and carry throughout a film.
Where would this film be without its main players. Donald Sutherland portrays a father who is desperately trying to hold his family together, trying as hard as he can to please everyone. "I just want this to be a good Christmas." It breaks your heart to hear him say this so plainly.
Timothy Hutton received an Oscar for his role of Conrad Jarrett - a suicidal teenager whose problems run deeper than just depression. He longs to be cared for, to be embraced without reproach, but he shies away, avoiding pain by distancing himself from the root of his problems. He appears as a volcano, prepared to spew its contents into the world. "When I let myself feel, all I feel is lousy." He delivers it with such honesty, that you cannot help but believe him. A well-deserved Oscar, indeed.
Then, there's Mary Tyler Moore. With a previous career of comedies and TV sitcoms, he role as Beth Jarrett is spectacular. As a mother who longs to be seen as normal and be surrounded by normal, she breaks your heart with her cold demeanor, deciding to ignore the issues at her feet in order to fit in with other families. One day, Conrad (Hutton) wants to just talk with her. She responds with, "I'll tell you what you can do, is go upstairs to that room of yours and clean out the closet." Her avoiding of emotional conversations, or any venture from stoicism, scares her. She would rather tell her son to clean his room than know about his life. She is not a "monster," as some have stated. Beth is merely a woman who wants society to recognize her as normal.
This film is one of the best of the 80s. Winning Best Picture (1980), it is a film of emotional connections and one about the past. No matter how much the past may hurt, you cannot avoid it. Only by confronting what you have experienced, can you ever be able to heal and live your life. Reading the novel and watching this movie have changed my life for the better. A movie to experience. Enjoy.
This review is from Ordinary People [DVD] 
I would recommend this to a friend
Rating 5 out of 5 stars with 1 review
Great movie, arrived quickly too. Son is doing a play based on movie, a big help.