Terms of Endearment tells the story of a mother and daughter, Aurora and Emma, played by Shirley MacLaine and, from adulthood onwards, Debra Winger. As a young girl, Emma’s father and Aurora’s husband passes away, leaving the two of them alone with one another. Aurora was always an overprotective mother, who also doesn’t seem to leave the house in order to make money, so her daughter is essentially the main focus of her life. Thus when Emma grows up, marries a young Jeff Daniels and has to move away, both her’s and her mother’s lives are forever altered.
Terms of Endearment has a reputation for being a thoroughly depressing story. I knew very little about it, other than it featuring a mother/daughter relationship, so I was expecting an almost constant barrage of one sad thing after another, culminating in literally everyone dying, horribly and slowly. Image It’s A Wonderful Life, but instead of the upbeat ending, James Stewart drowned in an ocean of orphan’s tears. That’s how I imagined Terms of Endearment, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this viewing. As it turns out, whilst there is a certain degree of sadness to the story, there’s also plenty of uplifting and even funny parts too. Continue reading →
Jack Nicholson is on fine form here as OCD-afflicted writer Melvin Udall, the least likely man ever to be described as a people person. He spends his days eating at his favourite cafe, being attended by his favourite waitress Carol (Helen Hunt good but not great, though she won the leading actress Oscar in what appears to have been a slow year) and annoying everyone else he comes across, most notably his gay artist neighbour Simon (the always reliable Greg Kinnear), whose dog we find Melvin depositing in the garbage disposal chute at the opening of the film. There’s barely a minority that isn’t critiqued in some way; Cuba Gooding Jr. is described as being the colour of “thick molasses,” the Jews dinging at Melvin’s table (Taub and Cuddy from House!) are informed that their appetites aren’t as big as their noses and, my personal favourite and a line I try to use as often as I can in everyday life, when asked how he writes female characters so well, Melvin replies “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” Genius.
Whilst focussing on Melvin, easily the more entertaining character, this is essentially a triple character study, with the second half of the film following Melvin, Carol and Simon on a road trip to visit Simon’s parents. The supporting characters loss is noticeable, but more than one eye is kept on the comedy even in the more dramatic or sentimental scenes. If this is as good as it gets, I’m fine with that.