Ordinary People Movie Review

Before Good Will Hunting turned psychiatry into pop culture and before The Ice Storm made suburban angst into a fashion show, Ordinary People opened the eyes of all of us. A bitter and heart-wrenching tale of teen suicide and alienation, Timothy Hutton takes center stage as Conrad Jarrett, a troubled teenager trying to cope with the accidental death of his big brother -- and not doing a good job of it. In fact, he tried to "off himself" and, having not succeeded, he finds himself the sole exhibition in a virtual and delicate menagerie for his friends and his parents.

We soon see that Conrad's problems run deep, as what should be quaint little interactions between he and doting mom (Mary Tyler Moore, excellent here), or he and imperviously upbeat dad (Donald Sutherland, ditto) turn perverse and creepy. His shrink (Judd Hirsch) doesn't offer any "It's not your fault" platitudes, leaving Conrad's healing process up to himself. The only joy he finds is with his new girl Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern, in her second role ever), who would be perfectly cast -- except she looks too much like Karen (Dinah Manoff), Conrad's friend from the hospital.

The sets and the music are perfect -- somber and subtly depressing. "Canon in D Minor" will never have another connection for me. I am shocked that people play a song so intertwined with suicide at their weddings.

Directed by Robert Redford (who won an Oscar, as did the film itself), in his dazzling directorial debut, Ordinary People is at once stuck in the late 1970s and impeccably timeless. It is a film that overflows with emotion yet somehow keeps it all beneath the surface for the characters. That kind of paradox you don't see every day. How could you?


Comments

Ordinary People Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 1980

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