Mary Tyler Moore received her only Best Actress nomination to date for playing Beth Jarrett, a woman having a troubles with her son in Robert Redford's Best Picture winner, Ordinary People. Mary Tyler Moore (just like Geraldine Page in Interiors) is the victim of wrong campaigning. Had she been campaigned in supporting, she definitely would have won the Oscar in that extremely weak field. Although she won the Golden Globe for her performance, she did not have much of a chance against Sissy Spacek's huge performance in Coal Miner's Daughter. Mary was undoubtedly second, in my opinion.
Ordinary People is one of the most emotionally effective movies ever. It's so forceful and moving, and it is indeed a cathartic experience. It's not perfect though, as the exposition is a bit slow, but I still feel that it desereved Best Picture and it's among my favorite movies ever. Robert Redford is a very talented director in my opinion: he's always able to create such an emotional atmosphere (see Quiz Show, which is brilliant, too), that it totally captivates me every time. However, he also needed great actors: there are no big movie stars here (maybe only Sutherland), most of the actors are TV stars (Moore, Hirsch, Hutton), who are superbly talented and we are constantly surprised by their achievements.
I happen to be a fan of Mary Tyler Moore's show: although I slightly prefer Valerie Harper, I also love Mary very much and she's such a great actress. I don't really see why she remained on TV after Ordinary People: she could have become a real movie star. However, I don't really think that she would have won an Oscar anyhow. She's the "now or never" type. With Beth, she had the perfect role: much different from her own image, and it's a really complex and multi-layered character.
It's so hard to tell what I think about this performance. On the one hand, it's a stunning achievement and I'm a huge fan of it. On the other hand, I think that she's really supporting in this movie. She's co-lead at best. It's interesting that she has the effect of a lead performance on you, but her screentime is really working against her. She has about 30 minutes, which should be used properly without any waste in order to be effective. I think that Mary perfectly solved this very hard task. Although she's not on screen, I can still feel her presence there and I just want to see more of her.
Beth is so full of layers and Mary shows all of them: on the outside, she's the perfect housewife, but soon we begin to realize that she's just not able to connect with her son emotionally. In fact, Beth is not capable of showing emotions at all. Every time that somebody starts to open up to her, she quickly changes to subject. Beth has difficulites with basic human communication, except for chatting and smiling as if everything was perfect. Mary wanted to underline that Beth is not a bitch, but a victim, who refuses to be one. Beth just cannot accept that she's not perfect and she just can't look at her son.
There's one scene at the garden where we see that Beth tries to get close to Conrad, but she fails, because he stars talking about her dead son. Donald Sutherland says in the end that it seems as if Beth buried all her love along with Bucky, the person she loved more than anyone. When Bucky was around, Beth was a woman full of love and giving, but his death just defeated and hardened her. You can be shocked that she basically hates her son, but, in fact, somehow, I understood Beth's feelings. Mary was so great at expressing them, that sometimes she almost made me speechless.
I have a slight complaint, though. I said that she had a really lasting effect, but I have to also add that the effect is a bit uneven. Sometimes it goes a bit dangerously low and there was a point where I thought that I would lose my interest in Beth. Fortunately, Mary avoided, but I blame her a bit for this. It might be again, though, that her screentime was not enough for this character as she's very complex.
Still, this is a fantastic performance, which is extremely haunting and captivating. Mary is able to make Beth a breathing, understandable human being, for whom you really feel sorry. Thanks to Mary Tyler Moore, I was perfectly able to understand Beth's emotions and feelings and I understood that she's in fact a victim. Excellent work.
What do you think? The Final Conclusion comes soon. I have got a lot to think about.