‘Don’t admire people too much. They”ll disappoint you sometimes…’
In a bid to find new films to watch and to expand my increasingly narrow horizons, I recently decided to make my way through all the Best Picture winners that I hadn’t already seen. However, a quick scan of past winners revealed that I’ve seen most of them and the ones I haven’t seen didn’t really appeal. The only two outliers were Driving Miss Daisy and Ordinary People…
Robert Redford’s directorial debut tells the story of an ‘ordinary’ family struggling to adapt after the accidental death of a child. Troubled teen Conrad (Timothy Hutton) is our trojan horse as we see the breakdown of the family unit through his unsettled eyes. The rest of the cast is made up by Conrad’s overpowering mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), her soft spoken husband Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Conrad’s uncompromising therapist Berger (Judd Hirsch).
I should start by saying the ensemble cast are genuinely enthralling. Hutton is wild eyed and lost in a way that recalls that spokesman for teenage angst Holden Caulfield, Tyler Moore and Sutherland share a toxic, insidious energy and Judd Hirsch fully justifies his Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 1980 Oscars. The issue is that these aren’t ‘ordinary’ people. They are incredibly affluent, wealthy people. They are approaching the 1%. And that means that sympathy is in short supply. In a way this is a throwback to the days when Hollywood presented all ‘normal’ families as living in mansions and swanning off to Europe on holiday every few weeks (see also Home Alone and many others) but in today’s fractured society, this vulgar display of wealth ensures that there is limited sympathy for this troubled family despite their many woes.
I’m no class warrior, but also sensitive to the fact that the issues displayed in this film pale into insignificance when compared to most problems that actual ‘ordinary’ people deal with on a day-to-day basis. That doesn’t make Ordinary People a bad film by any means, but it does make it a film that I just couldn’t fully relate to despite the compelling performances. Best Picture winner over Raging Bull?? A crazy decision.