MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.
Ordinary People (1980, 124 minutes)
Robert Redford’s razor-sharp directorial debut, Ordinary People, won the best picture Oscar for 1980. At first glance, it may resemble a suburban, upper-middle-class family from a TV sitcom, but there’s something going on here that’s not even remotely funny.
Calvin and Beth Jarrett return home from a community theater production and notice their teenage son’s bedroom light is still on. Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, as you’ve never seen her before) goes straight to bed, but Calvin (Donald Sutherland) knocks on Conrad’s door. “Trouble sleeping?” he asks. “No,” replies Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who’s pretending he’s been reading. “Have you thought about calling that doctor?” asks his dad. Insisting he’s all right, Conrad doesn’t mention all the times he’s awakened late at night, covered in a cold sweat.
The next morning, Calvin calls Conrad three times before he comes downstairs to breakfast. “Did you sleep?” his dad inquires. “Yeah,” answers Conrad, lying. “French toast, your favorite,” says Beth, putting a steaming plate in front of their younger son. Staring blankly at the dish, Conrad finally says, “Yeah, I’m not really hungry.” Irked, Beth quickly whisks away the plate and scrapes the food into the garbage disposal. “If you’re not hungry, you’re not hungry,” she snaps. Calvin protests, “Hang on a second, Beth. He’ll eat it.” He turns to his son. “You have to eat, Con.”
Beth rushes off early, leaving the men in awkward silence. “I gotta go,” says Conrad. “Lazenby’s picking me up.” His dad blurts out, “Is he? Great!” Conrad protests, “Why is it great?” Calvin fumbles for the words. “I don’t know, I-I don’t see the old gang much anymore. Why don’t you bring them around, Phil and Don and Dick Van Buren? We’ll play some touch football on the lawn.” Conrad grabs his school books and heads for the front door. “See you later,” he says, not looking back.
A month later, Conrad practices saying something in the elevator of a medical office building: “I couldn’t be better!” Dr. Tyrone Berger (Judd Hirsch), dressed in a faded blue cardigan, ushers the teenager into his office. “Sit down,” says the doctor, lighting a cigarette. “Are you feeling depressed?” “Yeah, a little,” admits Conrad, tapping his foot nervously. “I’ll be straight with you. I don’t like this already,” adds the boy. “How long were you in the psychiatric hospital?” asks the doc. “Four months,” he answers. “I tried to off myself. Didn’t Dr. Crawford tell you about me?” “Yes, he said you had an older brother who died,” says Berger. “Boating accident wasn’t it?”
Conrad grudgingly agrees to skip swimming practice twice a week to see the shrink for an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But It’s the last place in the world he wants to be, reliving that horrific day when his brother Buck was killed.