Navigate to Arts & Letters section

No. 25: Ordinary People

The life-saving superiority of Jewish emotionalism

Jesse Oxfeld
December 08, 2011

1980, dir. Robert Redford. A young, preppy Timothy Hutton driven to a suicide attempt after the tragic death of his beloved jock brother, Buck, in a sailing accident. (His name was Buck! It was a sailing accident!) Mary Tyler Moore, buttoned up in sweater sets and turtlenecks, as his mother, determined to keep things neat and tidy and settle all problems within the family. And a long, late-night run away from the family’s perfect suburban center-hall colonial and into the arms—literally—of the kindly, besweatered psychiatrist played by Judd Hirsch. Ordinary People is American cinema’s iconic, triumphant case for the life-saving superiority of Jewish emotionalism over WASPy repression. Among its three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, was one for its novice director, Robert Redford—who seven years earlier, as Hubbell in The Way We Were, had abandoned Barbra Streisand’s Katie precisely because he couldn’t handle her Jewish emotionalism. Goyishe kop.

Jesse Oxfeld, a former executive editor and publisher of Tablet Magazine, is a freelance theater critic. He was The New York Observer’s theater critic from 2009 to 2014.

Join Us!

Become a member and unlock exclusive access to events, conversations with Tablet personalities, and more.