Ordinary People

by Tom Ingram

Genre Drama
People Timothy Hutton; Donald Sutherland; Mary Tyler Moore; Robert Redford d.; Judd Hirsch; Judith Guest w.; Alvin Sargent w.; Elizabeth McGovern; M. Emmet Walsh; Adam Baldwin
/10 8

A suicidal teenage boy (Timothy Hutton) tries to recover from depression and survivor’s guilt after the death of his brother. Donald Sutherland is his understanding but somewhat dull father, and Mary Tyler Moore his cold and catty mother. Judd Hirsch is the psychiatrist, and Adam Baldwin is a teenage antagonist (in his second movie role). Robert Redford’s directorial debut, based on the novel by Judith Guest.

Generally a well-regarded movie, though I have to agree with Dave Kehr’s contention that “the film looks austere and serious, rather as if it had been shot inside a Frigidaire, and the oppressiveness of the images tends to strangle laughter, even at the most absurd excesses of Alvin Sargent’s script.” I initially did not like the novel and by extension the movie, but this has softened over time. They both have their merits.

The dialogue is often stilted and silly, but that’s mostly Guest original. Her rendering of Cal and Conrad’s internal lives was a stroke of brilliance, but her characters’ speech always sounds affected, meaning the actors (especially the teenage ones) appear to be consciously acting. Hirsch’s scenes range widely from pukey pop-psych to genuine insight. Sutherland pulls off his scenes with the effortless grace of an old pro, and Moore plays spectacularly against type as the painfully awkward mother.

One last thing: at school, professors will drop your lowest grade in assignment-heavy classes. Keep that in mind when watching the scene where Hutton barks (as in “arf arf”) at his mother.


2h4m; 1980; Colour; Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (lead actor Hutton, strangely), Adapted Screenplay (Sargent); Oscar nods for Best Actress (Moore), Supporting Actor (Hirsch)

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