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Ordinary People

 

This 1980 film was Robert Redford's first effort at Direction.  It is a powerful, well-acted story of a family's struggle to deal with one son's accidental death and the other's subsequent guilt-ridden suicide attempt.  Features strong performances by all, but Mary Tyler Moore is especially believable as the cold and rigid mother.  Based on the novel by Judith Guest.  It stars Moore as the mother, Donald Sutherland as the father, and Timothy Hutton as the suicidal son.  Judd Hirsch does a nice job as the therapist.

 

The film won the following Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Hutton).  Moore was nominated for Best Actress but lost out to Sissy Spacek in her outstanding role in The Coal Miner's Daughter and Hirsch was nominated as best Supporting Actor but lost out to Hutton who had the larger role in the movie.  (1980 was a tough year to compete in as the contenders for Best Movie were Coal Miner's Daughter, Raging Bull, Tess, and The Elephant Man.)

 

Key question: If you were the mother, what would motivate you to behave the way that she did?  At one point in the film she says: "We'd have been all right if there hadn't been any mess."

 

"The Jarretts (Calvin, a successful tax lawyer, Beth, his immaculately pretty wife, who runs the family as if life were something to be organized like a tennis tournament, and eighteen-year-old Conrad) are not only ordinary people, they are also 'nice' people.  They wear the right clothes, read the right books, eat the right things, and misbehave discreetly.  They put great store in self-control, as much in the privacy of their own house as abroad in the company of friends or strangers. The problem is that such niceness and control cannot accommodate the fears, furies, and resentments occasioned when things go to pieces"  (From Vincent Canby's New York Times review of the movie when it first came out in 1980.)

 

 

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