Ordinary People


Movie: Ordinary People

Release Date: September 19, 1980

Director: Robert Redford

Starring: Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch

Personal History: Watched Before

Rating: 8.5 Oscars out of 10

I have finally made it to the greatest decade ever – the 1980’s – on my Academy Award Best Picture Movie Challenge. That decade was, is and always will be my favorite time I spent on this planet. Having been born in 1971, my most impressionable ages (between nine and eighteen) were spent in those ten years, and what an impression they made. That is especially true in regards to all forms of art.

The movie to start off that glorious decade is ‘Ordinary People,’ which so happens to have also been a part of my 365 Day Movie Challenge. Nominated for six Oscars and winning four, including Best Picture, the movie was not only a success with critics but at the box office as well. I watched and wrote about it almost exactly three years ago and the words ring even more true today. So instead of trying to outdo myself, I am sharing an edited version of that below (click here for the unedited).

From A Movie a Day Keeps the Doctor Away January 20, 2020:

I first watched ‘Ordinary People’ sometime in the early 1980’s on HBO probably around the age of eleven or twelve. I used to look through our handy HBO guide every month and plan out when I would be able to watch “certain” movies. Since it was an R-rated film, it was only shown past eight o’clock at night. The best times for me to watch these restricted movies inconspicuously was a weekend after eleven o’clock. I had to make sure I was alone and had control of the television. Most kids my age were sneaking into R-rated movies at the theater or trying to watch ‘Porky’s’ on HBO. I was trying to watch the 1981 Best Picture winner. (As I have mentioned before I was a weird kid. Please continue not to judge.) It’s not that my parents would have cared greatly, in fact I may have watched this movie with my mom. My mother knew her movies and if she already saw it, she would deem it a-o.k. for younger eyes. But I can’t remember for sure if this was one of those movies.

Nonetheless, I watched ‘Ordinary People’ at a very young age on HBO. My reviews were not stellar that first time around. I knew Mary Tyler Moore from her sitcoms as well as Judd Hirsch from ‘Taxi.’ Maybe I was expecting some laughs. There were none. To me it was just a long, boring adult drama. So I checked it off my list of Best Picture winners to watch and never gave it another thought.

Sometimes an R-rated movie simply means anyone below a certain age shouldn’t watch it because they just won’t get it. There has to be a certain maturity level reached before grasping some concepts. This was one of those movies. I revisited the film when I was studying acting in college. I re-watched it with a few friends all around the age of twenty. This time around, I totally got it. What was a long, boring adult drama for a twelve year old turned into a beautiful, compelling family drama (with fantastic acting) for a twenty year old. Since that time, I have watched it periodically and it has became one of my favorite movies.

At the age of almost 52, there is so much more relatable “stuff” in this movie for me as a viewer; marriage, divorce, a twenty-something year old son, psychiatrist visits, just to name a few. This movie tugs at your heart strings, but not in a sappy, melodramatic way. The situations and emotions are real and are directed and acted in such a beautiful way it is difficult not to be moved.

The acting is simply superb. Timothy Hutton breaks my heart every single time he is on the screen. Judd Hirsch is equally fantastic as the psychiatrist and some of his scenes with Mr. Hutton reminded me a lot of ‘Good Will Hunting‘ (another favorite movie of mine). It’s quite easy to assume that both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck watched this movie while writing that screenplay. Donald Sutherland is also wonderful and was completely overlooked for an Academy Award nomination, in my humble opinion. That has to be considered one of the greatest snubs of all time.

However, Mary Tyler Moore is the actor that I paid attention to the most. This is a tough character to portray as she is often seen as the antagonist of the film. She is a cold woman, who although is suffering from a tremendous loss, won’t allow herself or her family to show their emotions. She wants her friends and parents to think that all is well, when in reality everything is slowly falling apart. The scenes she has with Timothy Hutton are gut-wrenching. This is family drama at its best. If you are only used to seeing Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie or Mary Richards, this role is quite shocking and solidifies how great of an actress she truly was.

I couldn’t help but be a little thankful for my mom when watching ‘this movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer.’ No matter what craziness happened in my life, my mom always loved me unconditionally and was never afraid or ashamed to show that love. That is quite the opposite of what happens on screen between Ms. Moore and Mr. Hutton. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

It’s probably also the reason I use a whole lot of Kleenex every time I watch this film.


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