Bottom Line: Emotionally heartbreaking Best Picture.
Directed by: Robert Redford
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, Mary Tyler Moore
Melancholy drama opens with a view of what seems to be your average family: a married couple (Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore) and their teenage son (Timothy Hutton). Next, we see a view of mainly the son, Conrad, and realize this is no ordinary family, but a three people trying to deal with the death of a family member, Buck, and move on as ordinary people. Conrad, after attempting suicide, sees a psychiatrist for coping with the devastating loss of his older brother, and we come to see that his parents, too, are just as horrified. Amid attempts to live regular lives, the anxiety begins to tear the family apart.
Of all films that must be seen from the very beginning, ORDINARY PEOPLE is the most crucial example. The film starts out with a simplistic title sequence, with plain white lettering against a black backdrop. Think of a Woody Allen title sequence, except silent, slow, and dramatic. Gradually, the black backdrop begins to fade into a brighter introduction to the setting, a typical neighborhood. We hear Pachelbel’s “Canon” as our background music, and we understand the mood immediately without even a hint of plot being yet provided. If those two starting minutes cannot feed you the pure solemnity of this film, nothing else will.
What is most “extraordinary” about ORDINARY PEOPLE is what an achievement this was. Robert Redford made his directorial debut with this film in 1980, after working as an actor, and he managed to clean up with the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing. Timothy Hutton cannot be forgotten either: his performance as the lead teen may have only earned him the statuette for Best Supporting Actor (he really had a main role), but he is what makes this feel like a more dramatic John Hughes flick. His character is foul-mouthed, disrespectful, but given his situation, agreeable. If a performer can carry an entire film as an adult, plus a well-experienced filmmaker, that’s one thing. If an actor portraying a teen can portray a film alongside someone who is brand-new behind the camera, that is something thirty times more authentic. A true must-see for anyone and everyone.