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Terms of Endearment (review)

Mothers and Daughters and Husbands, Oh My!

It’s a complicated love/hate relationship that mothers and daughters share. They can be each other’s best friend and worst enemy, often at the same time. Terms of Endearment perfectly captures that morass of conflicting emotions — at least from the daughter’s point of view, as I can testify from personal experience.
James L. Brooks’s film — he wrote the screenplay, directed, and produced — follows long-since widowed Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her only child, Emma (Debra Winger), through the course of about a decade. On the eve of Emma’s wedding to Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora warns her that she is making “a mistake of such gigantic proportions it will ruin your life and make wretched your destiny.” Whether things turn out quite that bad is open to interpretation, from which much of the strife between mother and daughter springs. Flap — who believes that Aurora holds her daughter in only “medium esteem” — moves his wife and young son to another city to take his dream job, and their marriage hits bumpy spots as their family grows and they begin to argue about money and the fact that he’s cheating on Emma.

This all works to enrage Aurora, yet she remains loyal enough to her daughter not to see the hypocrisy in decrying his affair as sordid and ruining the marriage while lauding as romantic Emma’s own affair with oh-so earnest banker Sam Burns (John Lithgow). And Emma can table the dissension with her mother over Flap long enough to encourage her in her pursuit — reluctant, at first — of her neighbor, former astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), who is, as Aurora explains, “an arrogant, self-centered, and yet somewhat entertaining man.” Aurora and Emma can celebrate and commiserate at the same time, as one woman is awakening to life for the first time in years while her daughter’s life falls apart.

Terms of Endearment is a cut above the typical chick flick, thanks to its heartfelt performances and genuine frankness. The twist toward the end of the film may be a tad manipulative, but I have to admit that even a heartless bitch like me always needs a handful of hankies for the last half hour.

Best Picture 1983
unforgettable movie moment:
Emma and Flap’s son Tommy, all of three years old, knows when he’s not wanted: Unbidden, he puts on his little coat and goes to sit on the snowy steps outside the house while his parents make noisy love upstairs.

previous Best Picture:
1982: Gandhi
next Best Picture:
1984: Amadeus

MPAA: rated PG-13

viewed at home on a small screen

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