Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mary Tyler Moore, in Ordinary People
approximately 30 minutes and 28 seconds
25.3% of the film







The film


The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.
It’s a very well structured family drama, with high-class acting and a smart feel to it. It’s about human relationships and the feelings displayed are faithful to reality. For the most of it, it’s a successful Best Picture winner.







Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett


There’s a scene towards the end of Ordinary People when Calvin is coming home from the psychiatrist and confronts his wife Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) about a forgotten aspect from their son’s funeral. Why did she care what shoes he wore that day? Their son had just died, but she still cared about matching shoes… To me, it’s the strongest moment of the film and it says so much about Beth. I understand Beth; and, very often, I act just like she does. Her incapacity of displaying any (love) emotion is defining for the character.


But did you check her time on-screen (it’s mentioned under the main photo)? At 30 minutes, she’s 3rd to last from all the years I’ve counted so far. We can see her for just 25% of the film, which makes it a 2nd leading performance, how I’d call it. Mary plays Beth, a cold intelligent woman, subtly dealing with her favorite son’s death and her dislike for the surviving one. We discover Beth as a mother, a wife and most of all: a strong opinioned woman who cares a great deal for appearances.

What is mostly required of the actress is to make Beth look like she’s always on the edge of her sit. Beth is kind to her husband, loving and slightly manipulative, but she feels terribly uncomfortable in the presence of her son. I do believe she doesn’t hate him; it’s just that hard to explain lack of human connection. They just don’t click. And Mary Tyler Moore is perfect for the part, because she can inspire both intelligence and class, and also the stiffness much needed for this role.


But Beth is no cold monster and Mary understands that. Instead of creating a frigid bitch, she underlines her incapacity of displaying emotion and her preference for image, and not substance. There are one or two scenes in which she tries to get close to her son or is plainly forced by the situation. Mary allows us to see the good nature of the character and relate to her. It’s emotional and tragic and she’s much aware of this, but it’s hard for her to change when there is so much regret and anger and untold words behind her relationship with her son.

When accused for her coldness and cornered for being the way she really is, Beth shows her vulnerability. I don’t know what anyone wants with me anymore. It’s her wish to continue living behind a wall of silence and not deal with all the problems. And who could blame her? Her final scene, after her husband’s confession is heartbreaking and, while she’s being forced into the truth of everything around her, we soon realize that in the end Beth is the real victim of the story, not her son. It’s Beth who lost everything. [Does all this sound confusing for someone who hasn’t seen the film?]


Mary Tyler Moore is responsible for all the character analysis mentioned above. She allows us to see Beth in a way other actresses might have not allowed us to. Her performance is so smart and balanced and empathetic that in the end you HAVE to understand her and feel sorry for her. Mary’s only weakness: the competition in her own film. It’s Timothy Hutton who has most screentime and in an excellent performance he manages to steal the show. His final scene in the psychiatrist office is greatly acted beyond words. Conclusion: I thought of giving Mary 3 stars, but it’s a deep performance and subtle like none other from this 1980 line-up. For that itself, it deserves .

11 comments:

joe burns said...

I should see this film soon.

MrJeffery said...

a really fantastic performance. it haunts me.

Alex in Movieland said...

MrJeffery, i actually felt that while taking the screenshots for this post. It seemed even better...

joe burns said...

Oh, and I watched Born Yesterday today. Judy Holiday's performance was a mixed bag for me. I cannot believe that the Academy picked her over Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, and even Anne Baxter. What were they thinking?

Alex in Movieland said...

Joe, there's no doubt about Davis. I've said it before; it's my favorite female performance ever.

But Judy Holiday was fantastic, i thought. combining unique (at that time) comedy with a just a bit of drama. I smiled all the way through her performance.

Fritz said...

I love Judy Holliday and her performance!

I think that Bette Davis was great but I will never understand why people call this the greatest performance ever...

Oh, and Mary Tyler Moore was great!

joe burns said...

Is Judy Holiday your second choice after Davis? Or is Swanson your second pick?

Alex in Movieland said...

I can't really say. I haven't seen Sunset Blvd. in a very long time.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I need to revisit this movie. I just remember liking Sutherland and Hutton. I vaguely remember Moore.

PS. I fell HARD for An Education.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

PS. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!

Shaun said...

Alex ~ I LOVE Ordinary People and think that Mary's performance is superlative. It is a surprise that she is in the film for such a short amount of time, but her impact is great. Her character's grief is so heavy that it overshadows any love she previously had for her husband and other son. It is a great performance is a powerhouse film. Everyone is wonderful in it, though I think Donald Sutherland and Elizabeth McGovern were sorely overlooked.

As for Best Actress in 1950, I'm actually split between both All About Eve ladies, though I've yet to see Judy Holliday's performance in Born Yesterday (she is great it in Adam's Rib).