Ordinary People (1980)

9.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 8/10

Strong acting surpasses trite plot

Story is very Made-for-TV in plot

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Ordinary People

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  September 19, 1980

MPAA Rating:  R


Awkward Family Photos…the movie edition

Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) is recovering from a suicide attempt after the death of his brother Buck. His father Calvin (Donald Sutherland) is desperately trying to hold the family together as his mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) seems cold and uncaring. Seeing a psychiatrist named Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), Conrad tries to work through his problems as he begins to reclaim his life by seeing a girl named Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern) who seems troubled by his attempt to end his life. As Conrad gets closer to the truth of the situation, will it be too much for him to handle?


I…I…I really want…I really want pizza….

The first film directed by Robert Redford, Ordinary People was based on the 1976 Judith Guest novel and loved by critics. The film won numerous award including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton). It also was nominated for Best Actress (Moore) and Best Supporting Actor (Hirsch). Despite the awards, most critics find the movie winning Best Picture an oversight by the Academy and that the real Best Picture should have been Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

I feel a bit sorry for Ordinary People because it is often dismissed due to the Raging Bull slight, but Ordinary People in itself is a good film.  It is a great and honest film about death and coping with death.  The three core actors (plus Hirsch) all push themselves.

My brother is dead and my mom hates me...what about you?

My brother is dead and my mom hates me…what about you?

I admit that the movie, especially by today’s standards, feels like a Made-for-TV movie.  The basic premise of a family coping with the death of their son, Conrad’s survivor guilt, and his father trying to understand both Conrad and his wife’s reaction to the death while fighting to hold his family together should have just been a Sunday night picture…even in the ’80s.  It has Lifetime written all over it.  Redford however managed to pull the movie above the trite plot elements into something better.

What really makes Ordinary People soar is the acting.  Hutton (for unknown reasons) is considered the “supporting actor” though he is the focus of the movie.  He’s young and does a great job showing his struggling with Hirsh as a nice foil to his self-loathing and to push him to the realization of his problems.  Sutherland also gets the short end of the stick by having the least meaty role in the film, but does a great job with what he has.


So…Mom…who do you like better?

The real standout in this movie I think however is Mary Tyler Moore as the cool, cold mother.  It would be easy to write her off as unfeeling, but it would also be a disservice to the character.  It is such a turn from the warm Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that everyone loved, and she says the thing that no mother would dare to say in her situation…it is cold and chilling which leads to a great ending which doesn’t leave the movie wrapped up nice and neat.

Should Ordinary People have won the Best Picture Award?  No…Raging Bull is clearly better, but that doesn’t mean that Ordinary People wasn’t a quality film.  The movie is strong, great looking, and shows some really great turns for some actors you might not expect.  Give Ordinary People a chance if you like a nice drama.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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