Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ordinary People Reimagined 30 Years in Either Direction

In case you're unaware, I have what you may call a sick and unhealthy obsession with the 1980 film Ordinary People. I have seen it more times than any person ever should, and every time I do, I'm an emotional mess for days afterwards. Recently, I even wrote an in-depth piece about how truly groundbreaking the film is, namely in its handling of an unusual mother/son dynamic typically ignored by Hollywood and cinema in general. Due to the film's uniqueness in that respect and its low-key stature despite winning the Best Picture Oscar (because Raging Bull should have won, blah blah get over it), one of my biggest fears is that someone will remake this wonderful film and completely ruin everything great about it. The idea of some hack director getting it into his head that just because the film is set in the early 80s everything in it is outdated and needs to be revamped for today's audiences is the stuff nightmares are made of. Plus, how in the hell do you top this amazing cast?


A very difficult task, indeed. And because I have no life and enjoy thinking about things like this, I often wondered just what the perfect Ordinary People cast would be in 2010 should someone stupidly try to remake it. It's a harder task than you would think given how difficult and precise these characters are. Here's what I came up with:


Andrew Garfield as Conrad
Robert Downey, Jr. as Cal
Nicole Kidman as Beth

If you've seen Boy A, then you understand why Andrew Garfield is perhaps the only choice for Conrad in this remake. Especially for a male actor of his age, he has the uncanny ability to play emotional vulnerability in a way that's usually only expected of females. Conrad is one of the few roles of this nature that relies almost entirely on this ability. Besides, can you imagine any other young male actor in the role? I love Zac Efron but, based on what we've seen so far from him, who knows if he could pull it off. Taylor Lautner? Haha, no. Robert Pattinson would probably be the mainstream alternative, given how they tried to make him James Dean in Remember Me, but I remain unconvinced he has the talent to make it work.

Our very own Ice Queen Nicole Kidman would be the perfect choice to play Beth, a woman whose emotional frigidness actually destroys her. Even if this is Kidman's stock in trade, there's another reason I would pick her. For most of the movie Beth has to hide her lack of emotion by retreating behind a mask of happiness and gaiety. She appears to be warm and loving with all of those around her (minus Conrad, natch), so that is how she is able to deceive her family for so long. I keep picturing that faux warmness Kidman portrayed in The Golden Compass and that's honestly what has me convinced she'd be perfect for the part.

Robert Downey, Jr. may seem like a strange choice, particularly to those people who only know him from his recent resurrection as the biggest star in Hollywood due to star turns in stuff like Tropic Thunder and Iron Man. But before then, he was also a consistently reliable dramatic actor in stuff like Less Than Zero and Chaplin. Playing Cal in Ordinary People would allow him to reconcile these two aspects of his career into one performance.

And because I really have no life, I was recently thinking what the 1950s version of Ordinary People would look like. This recently turned into a long and particularly nerdy Twitter conversation with J.D. and Glenn (the latter of which suggested I turn this into a post, which is funny because I was already planning one halfway through the conversation) that yielded a lot of interesting suggestions. Here is what I ended up going with:


James Dean as Conrad
James Stewart as Cal
Olivia de Havilland as Beth

James Dean, the little prince of post-War tortured teenage emotions, may seem like an obvious choice to play the emotionally damaged Conrad, but sometimes the obvious choice is the right one. I recently re-watched East of Eden and was surprised at just how vulnerable and emotionally needy he was in that film, even more so than in Rebel Without a Cause. Just imagining him in all of his James Dean glory, mumbling and stumbling through those early scenes in an emotional stupor gives me goosebumps. Sal Mineo (who has his own unique take on the emotionally tortured teen) and Dennis Hopper (who played a slightly similar role in Giant) are both other possibilities but Dean is obviously my top pick.

Casting the 1950s version of Beth proved to be a little more difficult. I originally had Bette Davis in mind, because, hello, she's my queen but something didn't quite sound right. Then Olivia de Havilland popped into my head and everything clicked. Much like Mary Tyler Moore in the original, Olivia was perhaps better known for having a warmer persona than Beth has. She wasn't exactly a comedienne like Mary but she was definitely more of an "everyday" girl than Bette. By the 1950s, Olivia had also been experimenting with the ice cold aspect of her persona, most notably in that final act of The Heiress. Her take on Beth would have been fascinating to watch and a nice change of pace from her usual work.

James Stewart could really be interchanged with someone like Henry Fonda as they both have the nice guy personas which would have been interesting to see trying to mediate between de Havilland and Dean. I ended up going with Stewart only because at one point he and de Havilland were heavily involved romantically. You all know how much I love to watch art mimicking and reflecting on real life so watching them as their marriage deteriorates might have given a glimpse into what they were like together.

Now it's your turn. If you had the chance to recast Ordinary People 30 years either way, who would you go with?

5 comments:

Twister said...

Although it may seem a bit too obvious, you're right on the money with James Dean as Conrad!

Adam M. said...

"Olivia de Havilland as Beth"

YES YES YES.

I don't agree with the 2010 recasting though. Mary Tyler Moore was so perfect for that part: able to convey at once fear, ignorance, grief, narcissism, and frustration, under a crackling veneer of insisted contentment. Nikki is too icy and severe--too cultured and intricate. I wish I could think of someone better... but it definitely needs to be someone who is convincingly more "ordinary."

Dame James said...

I see what you mean, Adam. Nicole is definitely anything but ordinary. Let's see what she can do in Rabbit Hole later this year since that part is quite "ordinary" in scope. If she is able to pull it off, then I'd say she's perfect for Beth.

MrJeffery said...

omg this post is amazing. i might have to shout it out tomorrow. mary tyler moore's performance is one of my favorites ever. i love the film and have seen it many times too and it always makes me cry. nicole would be frightening but something about that register in mtm's voice i don't think can ever be duplicated. interesting choices.

Jeremy said...

You know who might be able to pull off the role of Beth...Sandra Bullock. Sure, we see her as this funny and bubbly actress, and even when she is trying to be serious, there is still something "bubbly" about her. But think about it, that was Mary Tyler Moore too before she did Ordinary People. I think that if Sandra really dug in deep, and really pulled from her real life emotional experiences, she could pull it off. She may end up battling a real life depression while filming, but sometimes that's what makes it feel real, because the actors are displaying real emotions. I don't know, just a thought.