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Blu-ray Review: Ordinary People | Under The Radar Magazine

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Ordinary People
Studio: Paramount Presents

Apr 11, 2022
Web Exclusive

By Kaveh Jalinous

Robert Redford’s directorial debut, Ordinary People, is a deeply profound and thought-provoking look at a family shattered by trauma. The 1980 film is the winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Adapted from Judith Guest’s novel of the same name, Ordinary People centers around the Jarretts, an upper-middle class family coping with the death of their eldest son, Buck, as well as the failed suicide attempt of their youngest son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton). The mother (Mary Tyler Moore), father (Donald Sutherland) and son have no idea how to communicate with one another. This leads to tense family dinners that are either filled with small talk or completely silent or conversations that rapidly turn into screaming matches.

While the film explores the perspective of all three family members, the main storyline follows Conrad as he struggles to cope with the loss of his brother. His difficulties in school and social settings, as well as the mental breakdowns he suffers from, lead him to the office of a psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch), who gives him the space to voice his frustrations and figure out who he wants to be for himself. Conrad’s journey of self-discovery often leads to clashes with his mother, who is extremely distant and reserved around him, and his father, who is desperately trying to understand and connect with his son.

Ordinary People is skillful in how it explores the connotations around, and the destruction of, the American nuclear family unit. Throughout the film, Redford places an emphasis on the family members’ desire to be “normal.” This is evident in their conventional breakfasts of toast and juice, their perfectly-set dinner tables or their expertly-manicured lawns. At the same time, the film continuously pulls the characters further away from normalcy. This juxtaposition between the Jarrett family’s appearance and their reality emphasizes how flawed the stereotypical–at least on the surface–the American family is, choosing to sacrifice any sense of true connection in the pursuit of manufactured idealism.

Ordinary People is also a fascinating look into generational divides, specifically through its emphasis on acting as both a narrative feature and a series of character studies. This aspect is particularly supported by the relationship between Conrad and his mother, whose disconnection sets the basis for much of the film’s narrative. Through their dialogue, which always tiptoes around subjects that could set either one of them off, the film expertly illustrates the differences between Conrad, who is dying for his mother to show any affection towards him, and his mother, who is too disdainful toward her son to accept him. Seen through today’s lens, Ordinary People gives insight into how the American family dynamic has changed since its release 40+ years ago, and, in some respects, how it has remained the same.

As expected, Ordinary People has some outstanding performances. In the film’s center role, Hutton delivers an emotionally complex portrayal that expertly explores his character’s struggle. While Moore is also amazing, it is Sutherland’s quietly devastating performance that truly sells the film. His character’s slow realization that his life, and the relationships around him, are not what he thought they were, is incredibly compelling. Sutherland brings this emotional transition to fruition in the most unforgettable way possible.

The new remaster of the film looks great, and while the physical release isn’t filled with an extraordinary amount of supplemental features, the bonus content still succeeds at providing context around the acclaimed film. The release includes two new featurettes, one focused on Hutton’s experiences during the filmmaking process and one focused on Guest, who discusses both her novel and the adaptation process.

(www.paramountmovies.com/movies/ordinary-people)

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