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TERMS OF ENDEARMENT(director/writer: James L. Brooks; screenwriter: from the novel of Larry McMurtry; cinematographer: Andrzej Bartkowiak; editor: Richard Marks; music: Michael Gore; cast: Debra Winger (Emma Greenway), Shirley MacLaine (Aurora Greenway), Jack Nicholson (Garrett Breedlove), Jeff Daniels (Flap), John Lithgow (Sam Burns), Danny De Vito (Vernon Dahlart), Kate Charleson (Janet), Norman Bennett (Edward Johnson); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: James L. Brooks; Paramount; 1983)
“The tragi-comedy never made me reach for my hankie, never tickled my funny bone and it never found a way into my heart.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

James L. Brooks (“As Good As It Gets”/”Spanglish”/”Broadcast News”), veteran TV director responsible for such biggies as The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) and Taxi (1978-83), in his film debut, unevenly helms and writes this crowd pleasing but shapeless family drama/comedy sitcom (much like his TV shows) based on a mother (Shirley MacLaine)-daughter (Debra Winger) relationship over a thirty-year span that ends up a shameless tearjerker when Winger comes down with the fatal Illness and we have one of those Hollywood emotional deathbed scenes. The tragi-comedy never made me reach for my hankie, never tickled my funny bone and it never found a way into my heart. I found it rolling around in trivial sitcom territory bogged down with sentimentality and, to boot, very manipulative in its aims to bridge a relationship gap between mother and daughter.

It won five Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), and Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson). It also proved to be a big box office hit and received many rave reviews. It’s based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. A less well-received sequel was made in 1996 with MacLaine called The Evening Star.

Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) is a neurotic and eccentric Texas widow who offers possessive love to her extroverted and pertinacious daughter Emma (Debra Winger), who escapes mom’s suffocating hold on her as soon as she can by marrying the limited and wishy-washy but handsome and likeable Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels). He gets a secure college teaching job, which Aurora sneers at and despises him as a weakling from the get-go. As time passes the couple, who moved away from Aurora to Iowa, have three kids but Flap proves to be an unfaithful hubby and has an affair with a college coed (Kate Charleson); Emma fights back with an affair of her own with the timid unhappily married Iowa banker (John Lithgow), someone she met in the grocers. In the meantime, the film works best by sprinkling on comic relief in the awkward wooing over many years of the rigid fusspot Aurora by her uncouth, lascivious and at times drunken bachelor next-door-neighbor, the fortysomething ex-astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson).

It builds to the tearjerker Love Story (1970) ending, where Aurora comes to terms of endearment with her dying daughter and offers her true love for the first time. The film hits a high intensity level of mawkishness that evidently pleased a wide audience but left me wondering what all the fuss was over and why the main characters don’t like each other and then again why they eventually do, as all this soap opera theatrics seemed to be much ado over nothing.

Danny De Vito and Norman Bennett effectively play MacLaine’s other long-term suffering suitors.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”