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Ordinary People

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ordinary People
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Redford
Screenplay byAlvin Sargent
Based onOrdinary People
by Judith Guest
Produced byRonald L. Schwary
StarringDonald Sutherland
Mary Tyler Moore
Judd Hirsch
Timothy Hutton
CinematographyJohn Bailey
Edited byJeff Kanew
Music byMarvin Hamlisch
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 19, 1980 (1980-09-19)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.2 million[1]
Box office$90 million

Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama film directed by Robert Redford in his feature directorial debut. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent is based on the 1976 novel of the same name by Judith Guest. The film follows the disintegration of a wealthy family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the accidental death of one of their two sons and the attempted suicide of the other. It stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton.

Ordinary People was released theatrically on September 19, 1980, by Paramount Pictures to critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Redford's direction, Sargent's screenplay, and the performances of the cast. The film, which grossed $90 million on a $6.2 million budget, was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 1980, and garnered six nominations at the 53rd Academy Awards, winning four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Hutton (the youngest recipient at age 20).[2] In addition, the film won five awards at the 38th Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actress (Moore), Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton).

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The Jarretts are an upper-middle-class family in Lake Forest, a wealthy suburb north of Chicago. They are trying to return to normal life after experiencing the accidental death of their older teenage son, Buck, and the attempted suicide of their younger and surviving son, Conrad. Conrad has recently returned home after spending four months in a psychiatric hospital. He feels alienated from his friends and family and seeks help from a psychiatrist, Dr. Tyrone Berger, who discovers that Conrad was involved in the sailing accident that caused Buck's death. Conrad is now dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and is seeking help to cope with his emotions.

Conrad's father, Calvin, attempts to connect with his surviving son and understand his wife, while Conrad's mother, Beth, denies her loss, hoping to maintain her composure and restore her family to what it once was. She appears to have favored her older son and has grown cold toward Conrad due to his suicide attempt. Beth is determined to maintain the appearance of perfection and normality, and her efforts only serve to alienate Conrad further. Conrad works with Dr. Berger and begins to learn how to deal with his emotions rather than control them. He starts dating a fellow student, Jeannine, who helps him regain a sense of optimism. However, Conrad still struggles to communicate and establish normal relationships with his parents and schoolmates.

Beth and Conrad often argue while Calvin tries to referee, generally taking Conrad's side for fear of pushing him over the edge again. Tensions escalate near Christmas when Conrad becomes furious at Beth for not wanting to take a photo with him, swearing at her in front of his grandparents. Afterwards, Beth discovers Conrad has been lying about his after-school whereabouts. This leads to a heated confrontation between Conrad and Beth in which Conrad points out that Beth never visited him in the hospital; Conrad argues that if Buck had been hospitalized in his place, she would have gone to see him, to which Beth curtly replies that Buck would never have been in the hospital in the first place. Beth and Calvin take a trip to see Beth's brother Ward in Houston, where Calvin presses Beth about her evasive attitude.

Conrad suffers a setback when he learns that Karen, a friend from the psychiatric hospital, has committed suicide. A cathartic breakthrough session in the middle of the night with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to stop blaming himself for Buck's death and accept his mother's frailties. However, when Conrad tries to show affection, Beth is unresponsive, leading Calvin to emotionally confront her one last time. He questions their love and asks whether she is capable of truly loving anyone. Stunned, Beth packs her bags and goes back to Houston. Calvin and Conrad are left to come to terms with their new family situation, affirming their father-son love.



Gene Hackman was originally cast as Calvin Jarrett but then later dropped out when he and the studio could not come to a financial agreement.[3]

A then-unknown Michael J. Fox, who had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, auditioned for the role of Conrad Jarrett but reportedly did not impress Redford, who flossed his teeth during Fox's audition.[4][5]

Natalie Wood was also considered for the role of Beth.


Box office

The film was a box-office success, grossing $54 million in the United States and Canada[6] and approximately $36 million overseas[7] for a worldwide gross of $90 million.

Critical reception

Ordinary People received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89%, based on 102 reviews, with an average rating of 8.50/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Robert Redford proves himself a filmmaker of uncommon emotional intelligence with Ordinary People, an auspicious debut that deftly observes the fractioning of a family unit through a quartet of superb performances."[8]

Roger Ebert gave it a full four stars and praised how the film's setting "is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. ... That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become."[9] He later named it the fifth best film of the year 1980; while colleague Gene Siskel ranked it the second best film of 1980.[10]

Writing for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a moving, intelligent and funny film about disasters that are commonplace to everyone except the people who experience them."[11]

The film marked a career breakout for Mary Tyler Moore from the personalities of her other two famous roles: Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore's nuanced portrayal of the mother to Hutton's character was highly acclaimed, and earned her a Best Actress nomination.[12] Donald Sutherland's performance as the father was also well received and earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Despite his co-stars receiving nominations, Sutherland was overlooked for an Academy Award, which Entertainment Weekly has described as one of the biggest acting snubs in the history of the awards.[13]

Judd Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger was a departure from his work on the sitcom Taxi, and drew praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in film.[14] Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to co-star Hutton. Additionally, Ordinary People launched the career of Elizabeth McGovern who played Hutton's character's love interest, and who received special permission to film while attending Juilliard.

The film's prominent usage of Pachelbel's Canon, which had been relatively obscure for centuries, helped to usher the piece into mainstream popular culture.[15]


Julia L. Hall, a journalist who has written extensively about narcissistic personality disorder, wrote in 2017 upon Moore's death that she "portrays her character's narcissism to a tee in turn after turn."[16] She praised Moore for taking such a career risk so soon after having played such a memorable and likable character on television, "scaffolding gaping emptiness with a persona of perfection, supported by denial, blame, rejection, and rage."[16]


The film was nominated for six Academy Awards (winning four), including the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (for Hutton) in his first film role.[12]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Ronald L. Schwary Won [17]
Best Director Robert Redford Won
Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Judd Hirsch Nominated
Timothy Hutton Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Alvin Sargent Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Mary Tyler Moore Nominated [18]
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Timothy Hutton Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Robert Redford Won [19]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won [20]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Donald Sutherland Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Mary Tyler Moore Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Judd Hirsch Nominated
Timothy Hutton Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Robert Redford Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Alvin Sargent Nominated
New Star of the Year – Actor Timothy Hutton Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won [21]
Best Director Robert Redford Won
Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Won [22]
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Robert Redford Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Best Film Won [23]
Top Ten Films Won
Best Director Robert Redford Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore 2nd Place [24]
Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton 2nd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won [25]
Best Director Robert Redford Runner-up
Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore Runner-up
Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Runner-up
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Alvin Sargent Won [26]

Home media

Ordinary People was released on DVD in 2001.[27] It was released on Blu-ray in March 2022, featuring a 4K restoration of the film.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (May 30, 1981). "Pryor and Alda Proving Stars Still Sell Movies". The New York Times. p. 1.10. Archived from the original on November 10, 2020. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  2. ^ "Academy Awards: Best Director Facts and Trivia". Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved October 16, 2020.
  3. ^ Wuntch, Philip (November 14, 1985). "Gene Hackman Happy with his Career Despite 'Honorable Disappointments'". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on July 31, 2021. Retrieved August 22, 2021.
  4. ^ Lang, Brent (May 11, 2023). "Michael J. Fox Looks Back on Hollywood Triumphs, Setbacks and Why 'Parkinson's Is the Gift That Keeps on Taking'". Variety.
  5. ^ Late Night with David Letterman. October 23, 1985. NBC. |url=
  6. ^ Ordinary People at Box Office Mojo
  7. ^ Watkins, Roger (April 29, 1981). "CIC Sights a $235-Mil Global Windfall". Variety. p. 3.
  8. ^ "Ordinary People (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on May 23, 2019. Retrieved August 11, 2022.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1980). "Ordinary People review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 3, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  10. ^ "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969–1998)". Archived from the original on July 27, 2018. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent (September 19, 1980). "Redford's Ordinary People". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 12, 2017. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Siegel, Scott and Barbara (1990). The Encyclopedia of Hollywood.
  13. ^ "25 Biggest Oscar Snubs Ever: Donald Sutherland, Ordinary People". Entertainment Weekly. March 1, 2016. Archived from the original on June 22, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  14. ^ Martin, Linda B. (January 25, 1981). "The Psychiatrist in Today's Movies: He's Everywhere and He's in Deep Trouble". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2006.
  15. ^ Fink, Robert (2010). "Prisoners of Pachelbel: An Essay in Post-Canonic Musicology". Hamburg Jahrbuch. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  16. ^ a b Hall, Julie L. (February 11, 2017). "Remembering Mary Tyler Moore as the Chilling Narcissist Mother in 'Ordinary People'". The Narcissist Family Files. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
  17. ^ "The 53rd Academy Awards". October 5, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  18. ^ "Film in 1982". Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  19. ^ "Redford Wins Directors' Prize". The New York Times. March 17, 1981. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  20. ^ "1981 Golden Globe Awards". Golden Globes. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  21. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1980-89". Kansas City Film Critics Circle. December 14, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  22. ^ "6th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  23. ^ "1980 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  24. ^ Maslin, Janet (January 7, 1981). "'Melvin and Howard' is Chosen as Best Film". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  25. ^ "Ordinary People' Wins N.Y. Film Critics' Award". The Pittsburgh Press. December 31, 1980. p. 7. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  26. ^ O’Neil, Tom (March 2001). "And the Winners Were..." Written By. WGA. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  27. ^ Redford, Robert (April 25, 2017), Ordinary People, retrieved July 30, 2022
  28. ^ "Ordinary People (Paramount Presents) Blu-ray Review | High Def Digest". Retrieved July 30, 2022.

External links

This page was last edited on 22 June 2024, at 14:29
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