Ordinary People could easily be realized on stage. There are no fancy set pieces, the characters aren’t overly-emotive, the costumes aren’t extravagant, and much of the drama takes place when two people sit down to have a conversation. That is not to say that it doesn’t exist well on film (it does), it just illustrates how simple
and effective the film is.
Conrad, or Connie, as his friends and family call him, is an ordinary kid. He lives in the Midwest, heswims for his high school team, and he keeps his head down. Early on, you can tell that something doesn’t quite feel right. He has terrible, sleep-interrupting nightmares, he alienates his friends and burns bridges, and he has a tense relationship with his mother (Beth). He reluctantly begins seeing a
therapist (Berger) that coaxes his emotions out of him, gets him to open up about his older brother’s tragic death at sea, and also helps him address his attempted suicide head on.
By confronting his past, Conrad slowly starts to create tension in his family and rifts start to form. His father (Calvin) begins to empathize with his fragility as a teenager and sees Beth as a cold, loveless woman that gave all of her attention to the older son. In the end, Calvin informs Beth that, because of her callousness, he has fallen out of love with her and she ends up leaving him with Calvin.
This film was the best picture winner for 1981 and for good reason– it is beautifully performed, handles sensitive topics that are still relevant today, and never loses its sense of earnestness. While the cinematography, costumes, and sound are nothing to write home about, this film doesn’t need that to be effective. The characters in Ordinary People are much like those that you can find in your home town. They’re real people, with real problems, trying to find themselves and maintain relationships; that’s what makes the movie so powerful and worth your time.
Matt's rating: 4.25/5 Gabe's rating: 4/5 Rewind Cinema composite: 8.25/10