JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Terms of Endearment (Director: James L. Brooks) - April 20, 2022

Terms of Endearment

3.5 3.5
132 min.

‘My sweet-ass gal’

In 1983, Best Picture went, metaphorically, from the big screen to small as sitcom superstar James L. Brooks took home the hardware for his first cinematic outing, Terms of Endearment.

Curiously, Mary Tyler Moore’s appearance in Ordinary People (cross-reference below), three years before, also won big. Sadly, both films focus on life, love and loss with an overabundance of contrived weepiness rather than scintillating drama fuelled by the real effects of tragedy (accidental drowning) and disease (terminal cancer).

Shirley MacLaine (my absolute hero in 1988’s Madame Sousatzka) comes across as a tad too fussy in the pivotal role of Aurora Greenway, the too-soon widowed mother trying to figure out her on-again/off-again relationship with, mostly, rebellious daughter, Emma (Debra Winger leads the emotional parade with authority—notably in the inevitable farewell from the planet).

A breath of fresh, largely comedic air, comes in the form of next-door neighbour, retired astronaut, the incredibly named Garrett Breedlove who scores in every galaxy he visits. Jack Nicholson readily devours the, er, part (picking up Best Supporting Oscar along the way), but there is no on-screen chemistry between him and Aurora as they try to fill the voids in each other’s lives.

The scoundrel of the piece is the also name-reveals-all Flap Horton. Playing Emma’s philandering husband, Jeff Daniels is only semi-creepy as he produces three beautiful children while boffing “colleagues” on the side. No worries, his offended spouse manages to pick up some extra-marital satisfaction on her own (John Lithgow does his best, but is more a convenient plot point than an enduring character).

In the prestigious company of fellow nominees The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff and Tender Mercies, it’s hard to fathom what the Academy members were thinking. But possibly, facing their own health issues and infidelities thought it best to vote for “own of our own.” JWR

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Director - James L. Brooks
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