Ted Kramer's wife leaves him, allowing for a lost bond to be rediscovered between Ted and his son, Billy. But a heated custody battle ensues over the divorced couple's son, deepening the wounds left by the separation.
Beth, Calvin, and their son Conrad are living in the aftermath of the death of the other son. Conrad is overcome by grief and misplaced guilt to the extent of a suicide attempt. He is in therapy. Beth had always preferred his brother and is having difficulty being supportive to Conrad. Calvin is trapped between the two trying to hold the family together.Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was part of a wave of serious and intense family dramas in the late 70s and early 80s, a trilogy of sorts, all involving some intense standoff and showdown between family members, ending in a death, or a separation or divorce; starting with Kramer vs Kramer, following with Ordinary People, culminating with Terms of Endearment. Woody Allen's Interiors (1978) can be seen as part of this trend; with its dysfunctional upscale family; also with a problematic mother. See more »
When Conrad lies down on his bed before calling Jeannine, there is a bulletin board behind his head, on the wall above the bed. The bulletin board is missing in all other bedroom scenes, both before and after this scene. Also, taking these scenes at face value, Conrad's bedroom is maybe 5 or 6 yards wide with windows on opposite walls. None of the front or back exterior shots of the house show a space that could include this room configuration. See more »
Calvin? Why are you crying? Can I, uh... can I get you something?
Calvin "Cal" Jarrett:
What did you say? Calvin, what did you say? Tell me!
Calvin "Cal" Jarrett:
You are beautiful. And you are unpredictable. But you're so cautious. You're determined, Beth; but you know something? You're not strong. And I don't know if you're really giving. Tell me something. Do you love me? You really love me?
I feel the way I've always felt about you.
Calvin "Cal" Jarrett:
We would have been alright, if there hadn't been any mess. But you can't handle mess. You ...
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The perfect life of the perfect family is destroyed when the older of 2 sons dies in a sailing accident, leaving the parents and his younger brother to grieve, pick up and carry on. But how they accomplish this makes this movie a shattering but ultimately uplifting (in parts) experience.
Buck Jarrett drowns after he and his younger brother, Conrad, go sailing on a questionable day. Later, Conrad, feeling the guilt of his brother's death, tries to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the true personalities of his parents, Cal and Beth, as well as his own ability to grow are revealed when Conrad returns from the psychiatric hospital after a 4-month stay.
Conrad is given the name of Dr. Tyrone Berger, a psychiatrist (marvelously played by Judd Hirsch) who is unconventional to say the least. He dresses casually, drinks coffee he makes in his office and smokes incessantly (this is pre anti-tobacco). And he doesn't buy into the psychobabble practiced by many psychiatrists. At first, Conrad tells Dr. Berger he wants to gain control but what he really wants is to not feel - not feel the pain of his brother's death and what he believes is his part in it. But that unravels through a series of experiences he endures as the movie proceeds. In choir practice, Conrad is smitten with Jeannine Pratt (beautifully played by Elizabeth McGovern), a fellow singer who has an ability to recognize Conrad's pain without being amazed, horrified or judgmental. And Conrad also has a friend, Karen, (played nicely by Dinah Manoff)whom he'd met in the hospital and who can relate to his experiences there.
Donald Sutherland as Cal, Mary Tyler Moore as Beth and Timothy Hutton as Conrad give outstanding, Oscar-caliber performances. Cal tries to keep his feelings hidden by wearing a mask of bravado, carrying on and functioning in a world that has taken his son away. He loves Conrad and also recognizes his pain and his alienation fom his mother though he realizes he can't "fix it." But it's Mary Tyler Moore's performance as Beth that is so amazing. She is plastic through and through and it gets to the point of being downright annoying and yet MTM's portrayal is perfect. Of all the characters, hers is really the most disturbed. She wants to have things exactly as they were even though she mourns the loss of her firstborn son. She can't love Conrad because he committed the one unforgivable sin - he survived while her favorite did not.
Timothy Hutton, sadly, has never had a movie to top "Ordinary People." He has done other work, of course, (most notably in my opinion, "Taps") and can be seen currently as Archie in "Nero Wolf" on A&E. But his role as the troubled surviving son who rises from the pain in "Ordinary People" is truly magnificent and shattering. He earned the Oscar and he truly deserved it. And as he accepted his Academy Award, he remembered his father, actor Jim Hutton, who had died from liver cancer shortly before Timothy got the award. That was a classy thing to do. I hope Mr. Hutton gets another plum role like this one; everything else he has done since pales in comparison.
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