Ordinary People has been on my “to watch” list for a long time, as I view 1979 and 1980 as the last years of the great renaissance in American film, before it was killed off by the VCR revolution. The film won Oscars for best film, for director Robert Redford, and a Supporting Actor Oscar for Timothy Hutton (who is really the lead actor). Indeed, the reputation of the film is so high that I was worried I would feel obligated to love it, and might be disappointed.
On the surface, Ordinary People is a film about a family (and their psychiatrist) bickering, then hugging, then bickering again. The content of the film is wholly emotionally. There is little action. There is a plot, and some flashbacks, but all of these are used to convey emotional turning points of the characters. The reason Redford was lauded for his directorial debut was because he was able to elicit performances from his actors that are powerful, but never overacted or melodramatic, especially in the case of Timothy Hutton.