the fresh films reviews

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Ordinary People (1980)

Directed by:
Robert Redford


Ordinary People

124 minutes

Produced by:
Ronald L. Schwary

Written by (based on the novel by Judith Guest):
Alvin Sargent

Cast includes:

Calvin Jarrett Donald Sutherland
Beth Jarrett Mary Tyler Moore
Tyrone C. Berger Judd Hirsch
Conrad Jarrett Timothy Hutton
Jeannine Pratt Elizabeth McGovern
Swim Coach M. Emmet Walsh
Karen Aldrich Dinah Manoff -
Joe Lazenby Fredric Lehne -
Ray Hanley James B. Sikking -
Sloan Basil Hoffman -



This cinematic dissection of the Jarretts, an upper middle class family from an affluent Chicago suburb who are trying to deal with the death of their eldest teenage son and the attempted suicide of the younger, is so intimate and comprehensive that you feel you're being let in on something deeply private, not really meant for your eyes. Robert Redford's achievement in his directorial debut is remarkable, mainly because of the extraordinary authentic performances he extracts from his cast, but also in how acutely he understands the mechanisms for telling a story such as this one. The family drama movie will always be one misstep away from melodrama and cheap tears, but Ordinary People steers clear of this pitfall, not because it refrains from emotion, but because Redford never becomes too insistent. The film is not an easy watch, however. You're asked to sit through and sympathise with a stagnant situation of dysfunctional family relations and suppressed grief. Still, it is constantly rewarding, because you feel you are watching real people and real problems which you may just partake in solving. Redford requires you to put in the work together with Conrad and his parents, but despite of this or perhaps because of it Ordinary People opens you up and leaves you exposed. Superb performances by the entire cast, particularly young Timothy Hutton as Conrad and Donald Sutherland as his father, cap off one of the best entries in the family drama subgenre. The wonderful script is by Alving Sargent (Julia, Straight Time), adapted from Judith Guest's novel.

Re-reviewed: Copyright 09.02.2024 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review: Copyright 01.08.1997 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang