• R, 2 hr. 4 min.
  • Drama
  • Directed By:
    Robert Redford
    In Theaters:
    Sep 19, 1980 Wide
    On DVD:
    Aug 14, 2001
  • Paramount Pictures


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Ordinary People Reviews

Page 2 of 65
April 13, 2014
Timothy Hutton's performance had impressive depth for someone who was only 20 years old at the time, though I can't help but feel as if this film would have been greater if more scenes were devoted to Dr. Berger.
April 12, 2014
A paean to psychology & dysfunction. Sutherland is excellent. Hirsch is very good, too. Hutton is good, but annoying as all get out. Same with Moore.
You can see the early 80s, psycho-analytical, self-obsessed culture permeating.
Some interesting mental investigation. Some level of beauty in the cinematography. The traumatic flashback scene toward the end is particularly effective. Yet, it's never fully immersing. It kind of left me wondering, "'kay...and?"
I think the message is that atheism leads to mental instability.
Cody K.
May 19, 2013
Nigh-perfect direction, script, and performances with fantastic editing and camerawork make Ordinary People a masterpiece.
March 30, 2014
Most people who watch "Ordinary People" today, 35 years on, surely do so because they're Oscar completists. For most people making their way through the list, it's probably one of the last Best Picture winners they make themselves sit down and watch. It's acquired an unfortunate reputation as being one of the Academy's "mistakes," since it beat the more stylistically-challenging "Raging Bull." The reason that's unfortunate is that it's unfair to the movie, which taken on its own terms is a perceptive examination of a family's grief.

In honoring "Ordinary People" with the Best Picture and Best Director statues, Hollywood awarded for the first time one of its most genial figures, Robert Redford. As his directorial debut this is, appropriate enough, a genial movie. But it is difficult to explain why it is a good movie without explaining why it is not a great movie. It is a serious film that deals with death and suicide and broken homes, but it must be acknowledged even by the sympathetic reviewer that its handling of these issues is not much more serious or creative than a "Very Special Episode" of some '80s or '90s TV drama. It focuses squarely, all too squarely, on the "humanity" of its characters, and it hand-holds the audience through the plot all too gently. It feels, if not preachy, then like a therapy session that we've been assigned to attend because we have not been sufficiently attentive to the pain within ourselves and others. The always-on, always-sensitive tone of this kind of storytelling can be exhausting because it lacks the temporary relief that a little cynicism and distance can provide. The movie demands that you care for all of its characters all the time. This is a tough ask under the best of conditions, but especially when the characters hew too close to stock stereotypes. The high school students all fall pretty neatly into the standard categories of brainless jocks and quirky loners, and the parents are the overly-busy, clueless, grown-apart kinds we've seen before. At the beginning, Redford's directorial style, with its straight-on symmetrical shots of a dining room table and a camera that looks back and forth at people having a conversation like a crowd looks at a tennis match, seems equally unoriginal, but this decision actually pays off toward the end when the same pace simplicity are used to cross-cut a flashback sequence. In the latter case, the person having the flashback is really having a long-delayed, straightforward dialogue with himself, and the visual style suits this culmination well. Yet it is, after all, much like other revelatory and epiphany-creating flashbacks in film and TV.

The ordinariness of "Ordinary People" is probably held against it more than it would be had it not won its Oscars, but at the same time far fewer people would probably watch it today had it not won them. And that would be a shame, because despite its shortcomings, it is an occasionally very perceptive film. For all the times it is too "on the nose" with a song choice ("Hallelujah" when a character is happy) or a line of dialogue (how many times has "I miss him too, you know!" been declaimed on screen?), there are also moments of real observational insight, as when an introverted character presses the "close door" button on an elevator rather than risk a social encounter. That rings true, and thankfully it happens without being directly commented upon. The movie also casts Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore against type, which is interesting to see. To watch "Ordinary People" is to be reminded that Redford is, by all appearances, a refreshingly warmhearted and compassionate celebrity in an industry that too often rewards egoists and borderline sociopaths. I may be in a minority, but I frankly think it's nice that movies like this can and do win Best Picture over movies that are superior in technique but colder and bleaker in outlook.
March 21, 2014
Brilliant character-driven drama. Incredibly emotional and psychologically intense. Explores how one event can change the lives within a family, and the repercussions of those changes.

Script is solid but it is Robert Redford's direction that makes the movie. The lingering, haunting looks, the perfect body language of the actors, the pacing. Despite being a movie with little "action", so to speak, mostly dialogue, there is no padding, or drifting. It is never boring, and always very enthralling.

Great performances all round. Nobody puts a foot wrong. Timothy Hutton, in only his second cinema movie, got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, though he was arguably the lead actor in the movie.

Mary Tyler Moore got a Best Actress nomination and Judd Hirsch a best Supporting Actor nomination, and both of these were well-deserved. Moore's performance was probably the standout in the movie, especially as she was predominantly a comedy actress. There was nothing funny about her performance here: its intensity sets the tone for the movie.

Donald Sutherland's performance is no less great, despite the lack of nomination.

Good support from Elizabeth McGovern and Dinah Manoff.
Jason F.
March 20, 2014
Ordinary People is perhaps an unusual choice for Best Picture given the Academy's history. But the film remains relevant with strong performances from the cast, an engaging story and an excellent directorial debut from Robert Redford.

On TV's House, Wilson's office is decorated with movie posters - originally Orson Welles' Touch of Evil and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. But when questioned at a press conference, actor Robert Sean Leonard said that Ordinary People was a poster he would like to see in an oncologist's office. One of his personal favourites, Leonard has called the film "a fascinating study of human relations and familial relations and human interaction". For a doctor who duels with a disease that destroys lives and families, often as much a counsellor as a physician, Ordinary People is a film his patients may be encouraged to know he is a fan of. The producers of House soon added an Ordinary People poster to the set.

As for the film itself, it is quite right to call it a fascinating study of a family struggling to move on from the tragedy of losing a son.

Initially it seems that their surviving son Conrad, (Timothy Hutton) is the one having the hardest time coming to terms with the death of his older brother, Buck. Conrad was with Buck when he died in a boating accident and has just been released from a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt.

The normal teenage dilemma of finding his identity compounds his struggle to resume his life from before his brother's death and his suicide attempt as he questions his taste for his previous interests and what, if anything, he has in common with his old friends. At his father's insistence he starts seeing psychiatrist Dr Burge (Judd Hirsch) who delivers a tough-love approach of challenging Conrad, with understanding but without pity, in scenes that remind one of those between Robin Williams and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Increasingly willing to turn a new leaf in his life Conrad begins dating Jeannie (Elizabeth McGovern), a girl from his school.

But as the film progresses, we see that Conrad is not the only one struggling for peace. His father Calvin (Donald Sutherland) is also finding it difficult to take an interest in his former career and friends. An awkward nice guy who is afraid of confrontation, Calvin feels he is the only thing holding the family together. Caught between a son self-destructing and a wife in deep denial, the family rift tears Calvin apart until he begins to question whether the family can or should be held together at all.

Mother of the family, Beth, is probably the most interesting character in the film, wonderfully portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore. She stubbornly resists any external show of the emotional turmoil she undoubtedly feels. She inexplicably gives priority to keeping up appearances and wants to give no one outside the family any inkling of their troubles or to create scandal or reason for gossip. But her pretence extends within the family where her denial comes across as cold, disconnected and utterly uncaring, particularly as she seems to have elevated her dead son to a position of saintly perfection that only exists in her mind and leaves her surviving son feeling unloved and unable to live up to the image of his dead brother. Calvin increasingly has to play referee between his wife and his son until Beth faces a choice between finally confronting her misery or breaking up the family.

Ordinary People became a box office success and produced career turning performances for a number of participants. Judd Hirsh and Mary Tyler Moore, previously best known for their work in TV sitcoms, managed to challenge preconceptions with stirring dramatic performances. The film gave Elizabeth McGovern, now best known for her role in Downton Abbey, her first major role. Most of all, the film is Robert Redford's directional debut. Redford shows considerable maturity, restraint and subtlety to allow the characters, their dialogue and the plot to speak for themselves rather than spoil the story with over-direction, misplaced innovation or unnecessary emphasis. Instances that may seem cliché to a modern audience - such as where Calvin jogs, his mind burdened with thoughts until he stumbles overwhelmed - are few and forgivable.

The film was well acknowledged with six Academy Award nominations in 1980, winning four - Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Hutton, although it could be argued that his was the lead role), Best Director for Redford and Best Film over The Coal Miner's Daughter and Raging Bull.

This was a strange time in the history of the Academy. The previous year, another family drama, Kramer vs. Kramer, cleaned up over the brilliant and much fancied Apocalypse Now. It is difficult to elucidate exactly what went on here and why the academy got a sudden taste for private familial dramas of ordinary people over its usual preference for historical events, biopics, epics and stories of overcoming social injustice.

Most likely nothing was going on here and both Kramer vs. Kramer and Ordinary People represent no deviation from the Academy's usual taste for solid performances and safe choices. The success of Ordinary People certainly befits the solid performances in writing, acting and direction.
July 20, 2011
very complex movie about depression and aftermath of deep shock
February 13, 2014
Ordinary People definitely deserved the Oscar nominations for acting, but how did this movie win Best Picture? Keep in mind, 1980 was also the year that The Empire Strikes Back, Raging Bull, Airplane! and The Shining and were released in theaters. Timothy Hutton gives a remarkable performance as the troubled Conrad Jarrett, but the story is flat and the editing is a bit sloppy. What is with the Academy Awards in the early 80s?
John B

Super Reviewer

January 29, 2014
Redford's classic was deserving of praise. From the score to the acting, this remains a powerful film and likely inspired hundreds of inside looks into how family members interact with one another.
Matthew S

Super Reviewer

January 28, 2014
The greatest discoveries are internal ones, and this intelligent script portrays the inner adventures of a young man named Conrad and the people important to him. We quickly learn the family lost their oldest son, but we don't know how. Only Conrad can tell us and that's unlikely since he was recently released from the hospital after trying to end his own life. Over the course of the film, the skill of unprejudiced listening is introduced, treasured, and honed. Director Redford practices what the story preaches, allowing us to sit in silences with the characters and listen to the truths - something perhaps too risky for modern movies.
November 12, 2013
Redford nails it in his directorial debut in that he so skillfully is able to allow anyone from any walk of life to relate to this upper middleclass family's dysfunction in dealing with tragedy and its aftermath. Redford so superbly shows how the characters are able and unable to empathize with the ones they supposedly care the most about. . It is a definite blast from the past that proves itself timeless in our quest to be human and to, sadly, relate to those, even in our own families, that cannot be tolerable. It was a 180 departure for Mary Tyler Moore - who we all fell in love with as lovable Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore show who Redford transforms into Beth Jarrett, a self absorbed phony who has no capacity for love and is only concerned about outward appearances which trumps the health and well being of her own son.
Alec B

Super Reviewer

December 14, 2013
The performances are genuinely good and I like the overarching narrative, but its hard to shake how frustrating the film gets. Redford is constantly demonstrating, via obvious visuals, how Hutton and Sutherland are separate from Moore and alienated from society. It gets to the point where one wonders if that's the only thing the film has to say. However, I don't think I can entirely dismiss the film for that reason alone because of the unusual consideration that is given to the predicament of Moore's character . . . she knows that she is incapable of love but desperately wishes she was.
December 4, 2011
i definitely appreciate this film more upon a second viewing. i remember i wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending the first time i watched it, but this time, having a better understanding of the characters, it made perfect sense to me. really enjoyed the development of mary tyler moore's character as a three-dimensional antagonist. the film did great work on character and embedding the theme within those characters. resulted in some moving moments.
December 4, 2012
Wonderfully acted, nicely approached, with incendiary dialogue and fully fleshed characters, Ordinary People is a magnificent and poignant film that captures the messiness of human emotions and familial struggles in a fascinating way and it is a deserved Best Picture winner, even in the year of 'Raging Bull'.
November 21, 2013
Demolidor drama familiar consegue levar a intensidade das suas cenas até ao extremo, porque também pode contar com um trio de actores absolutamente credíveis e dispostos a isso. Se o tratamento de um dos personagens (Beth) nem sempre é muito justo (é até um pouco vicioso), o retrato feito dos restantes está sempre afinado e demonstra uma preocupação em evitar estereótipos do drama. Há também uma valorização da terapia que antecede em muitos anos o "Good Will Hunting" (bem visto pela Mary) e o Donald Sutherland deixa-nos na memória um par das suas melhores cenas. É para ver com uns quantos lencinhos de papel por perto.
November 20, 2013
Absolutely incredible movie.
June 6, 2013
My Favorite Film Is 1941's Citizen Kane.
October 14, 2013
Beth Jarrett (Moore) is a repressed mother whose favorite son died, leaving her with another (Hutton) she can barely tolerate. Redford's directoral debut is impressive, and an absolute must see. Oscar winner for picture, director, actor (Hutton) , and screenplay (Alvin Sargent).
September 8, 2013
Maybe it was the filmmaking style but the pace of the film was very monotonous. Aside from that performances were great especially from Mary Tyler Moore. Her parental choices and attitude are conflicting - making her character very interesting.
August 18, 2013
Ordinary People may be overrated, but it's great acting and relatable story are undeniably classic.
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