Ordinary People: A Multi-Oscar Winner In 1980

L-R: Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People. Courtesy of Paramount.

The Oscar-winning Ordinary People joined the Paramount Presents line with a new Blu-ray last March from Paramount.

Robert Redford oversaw the 4K transfer as the film was remastered for Blu-ray. With the amount of films getting a 4K UHD release, one can only wonder why Paramount opted with Blu-ray over a 4K UHD disc. I have no excuse in being so late to watching the film but with Being Mary Tyler Moore airing this weekend, there’s no time like the present.

Ordinary People is about a Lake Forest, Ill. family that is doing their best to appear normal despite their recent tragedies. You have to feel for Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) with what they’ve been going through. First, they lose their oldest son, Buck (Scott Doebler). Not long afterwards, their youngest son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), attempted to kill himself. When the film starts, Conrad has been in a psych ward for a few months and is trying to find his way back into society. At the same time, he’s meeting with a psychiatrist, Dr. Tyrone Berger (Judd Hirsch). It’s through the conversations with Dr. Berger in which we learn that Conrad has PTSD as a result of being there when his brother died.

But even as Conrad keeps meeting with Dr. Berger and starts dating Jeannine Pratt (Elizabeth McGovern), home life might never recover. Calvin and Beth Jarratt are in two very different places. Beth wants their old life back but this is practically impossible. With Buck being her favorite, it also impacts her feelings towards Conrad. On the other hand, Calvin tries connecting with Conrad. Conrad has a lot of work to do but so does his family. Calvin is constantly taking Conrad’s side during any argument with Beth for fear of something drastic happening. Unfortunately, everything comes to a head during the holidays. It only gets worse from there on out.

Musically speaking, Canon in D is a choice for 1980. However, this is the film responsible for placing the classical piece of music back into the mainstream. It shows the power of the medium!

This is one of those films that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite a while now. For one, it’s a Best Picture winner. While I personally gravitate towards the 1980 comedies as my favorite films, I can understand why this film resonated with the Academy. Not only did it win Best Picture but it took home Director, Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), and Adapted Screenplay. With his Oscar win, Hutton became the youngest actor to win in his category. Meanwhile, Mary Tyler Moore and Judd Hirsch earned nominations for Best Actress and Supporting Actor, respectively. The film is one of the few Best Picture winners to win without a Best Editing nomination. Did the Academy voters think that it edited itself?!?

I knew this was a breakout role for Mary Tyler Moore. Her coldness in playing Beth is so different from her comedy work that I’m just so accustomed to watching. It’s like you’re looking at a different person altogether. Like what happened to Laura Petrie and Mary Richards? If not for Coal Miner’s Daughter, I have to think that she would have won. In any event, this film is proof that she could do more than just comedy. Similarly, the film did the same for then-Taxi star Judd Hirsch in showing his range as a performer. If we want to talk about snubs, we must discuss the fact that Donald Sutherland didn’t receive Oscar nomination. I’ve seen snubs through the years and that’s a snub if I ever saw one.

You wouldn’t know from watching that Ordinary People is Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Credit his many years of acting but he hits a home run on the first try. Not just a home run but a frigging Oscar for Best Director. How many times does this happen for a first feature? Next to Redford, there are at least three directors in the club: Delbert Mann (Marty), Jerome Robbins (West Side Story), and Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

While the subject content brings about some heavy themes that are not easy to discuss, Robert Redford hits it out of the park with Ordinary People.

Bonus Features

  • Swimming in the Rose Garden— In this new featurette, Best Supporting Actor Oscar® winner Timothy Hutton reflects on filming ORDINARY PEOPLE and the intriguing approach director Robert Redford took to create a feeling of isolation on set.
  • Feeling is Not Selective— Acclaimed American novelist Judith Guest discusses her novel and the process involved in adapting it for film.
  • Theatrical Trailer

DIRECTOR: Robert Redford
CAST: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, Timothy Hutton, M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth McGovern, Dinah Manoff, Fredric Lehne

Paramount released Ordinary People in theaters on September 19, 1980. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.