14 Montrose Voice/ Dec. 2,1983
Terms of Endearment' is Rare Emotional Experience
By Steve Warren
With cancer touching more of us every
day, it's useful to have a movie that
doesn't prettify it. If that's not your idea of
entertainment, the same movie happens
to contain enough outrageous humor that
they could have named it National Lampoon's Love Story.
But it's called Terms of Endearment,
and it ties its diverse elements together in
a cliche-free portrait of a strange but real
mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter
(Debra Winger). Writer-producer James L.
Brooks, the creator of The Mary Tyler
Moore Show and Taxi, makes an impressive big-screen directing debut that should
win him an Oscar nomination.
A few early scenes establish Aurora
Greenway as a tart-tongued widow whose
outspokenness keeps even her beloved
only daughter Emma at arm's length.
("Sure would be nice to have a mother
When Emma marries Flap (Jeff
Daniels), a blond hunk who calls her his
"sweet-ass gal," Aurora advises against it
("You're not special enough to overcome a
bad marriage!") and even boycotts the
Still, Aurora and Emma are joined—at
least by telephone—'til death do them
part—which may not be true for Emma
and Flap, whose money troubles lead to
other marital strain, even while their love
produces three children. ("How is your life
going to get better," Mama nags, "if you
keep having children with that man?")
Mother and daughter drift into simultaneous affairs. Aurora, who refuses to
grow old gracefully, accepts a longstanding proposition from nextdoor
neighbor Garret Breedlove (great name!),
a retired spaceman ("There's a hundred
and six astronauts in the whole fuckin'
world, and I'm one of them!") who lives
higher than he ever flew.
Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger as mother and daughter in "Terms of
Emma, afraid that Flap is having film's funniest line, a terrific putdown of
affairs, has one of her own with shy, mar- New Yorkers, in his first scene),
ried banker John Lithgow (who has the It sounds like soap opera in synopsis.
especially when cancer enters the picture,
but Brooks' humor keeps it from going
that route until a bit of tear-jerking at the
end. By that time, we've come to know and
care about the characters, despite their off-
It's unfortunate that the two stars don't
have more scenes together or a real acting
duel might have resulted; but while
Aurora stays home in the River Oaks section of Houston, Emma goes with her husband to Iowa and Nebraska.
So we get two strong individual performances. MacLaine takes to the Belf-
deprecating role like a true masochist
(who else would let herself be photographed in such unflattering costumes?)
and is rewarded with dialogue that once
only Bette Davis could have gotten away
with. Winger has the more ordinary part,
but it has quite a range to it, and she handles it superbly.
Jack Nicholson plays the neighbor with
the wrong stuff, and talk about self-
effacing! He reveals a belly that's large
enough to get separate billing!
Brooks has explained his choice of the
Locke Lane location: "River Oaks is more
distinctively American than it is Texan.
The block that we were on is like Ozzie and
Harriet's house, Judy Garland and
Mickey Rooney's; it's Andy Hardy country."
The ingredients of Terms of Endearment don't mix easily, and its uniqueness
is such that you can't just slip into it like
an old coat. Don't expect to be overwhelmed from the first moment. Instead,
just relax and be slowly drawn into its
spell. By the time it's over, you'll know
you've seen a fine piece of filmmaking and
shared a rare emotional experience.
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