A young mother struggles to keep her family together thanks
to her unfaithful husband and difficult, widowed mother.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Written and Directed by James L. Brooks
Starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson,
Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow, Danny DeVito, Lisa Hart Carroll
Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry
Oscar Wins - Best Picture, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine),
Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Director,
Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Nominations - Best Actress (Debra Winger),
Best Supporting Actor (John Lithgow), Best Art Direction,
Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Michael Gore)
I had such high hopes for Terms of Endearment. Such a great ensemble, and nearly forty years of critical acclaim. But like many Best Picture winners of the 1980s, it doesn't hold up. There's just nobody to root for, and the story goes in so many different directions that you have nothing to focus on. The sudden death of Debra Winger's characters comes completely out of the blue and seems to only exist to make at least one of these characters somewhat sympathetic on their death bed. To me, Best Picture symbolizes the cream of the crop; an absolutely brilliant film that represents the best that the year has to offer. In no way does this film represent that for 1983.
It all begins with Aurora Greenway (MacLaine), the most needlessly mean movie mother I've seen in a long time. Everything is always about here, including her daughter's wedding. Whenever she proves her daughter wrong, there's this smug little smile. God, she's insufferable. And her daughter isn't any better. Emma (Winger) learns from the best, never admitting her infidelity with John Lithgow to her husband Jeff Daniels, who is also sleeping around. Meanwhile, the only decent person is Jack Nicholson, who plays a womanizing astronaut who at least knows what kind of person he is. Frankly, if the characters suck, the film is gonna suck too. I don't know if I'd go that far, but the characters are definitely below par.
I don't understand the acclaim that this film has received over the decades. It's not that great. It's like a theatrically-released Lifetime movie with the obvious lesson of "Don't be an asshole to your kids." While the performances are good and almost entirely save this movie, I've seen everyone involved deliver much, much better work elsewhere. Maybe it's time to give this film a collective rewatch.