When I decided that Terms of Endearment was to be my next Oscar Best Picture Winner, I did not know what type of a film it was. With a character driven plot, Terms of Endearment follows the lives of a mother and daughter that have a strong yet unique bond. While this film was not my favorite, it had some outstanding performances in it that made the film compelling and worth watching.
If there was a single word that could describe this film it would be dysfunctional. When I say dysfunctional I am not referring to the camera shots or direction of the film, I am talking simply about the characters themselves. The film focuses on the mother/daughter duo Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma Greenway Horton (Debra Winger). It becomes clear early on that despite thinking about the world in very different ways, Aurora and Emma are best friends. Married to professor Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora moves to Des Moines Iowa for Flap to pursue his career. Eventually having three children, Tommy Horton (Troy Bishop), Teddy Horton (Huckleberry Fox) and Melanie Horton (Megan Morris), the two sink into a fairly unhappy marriage. With Flap unable to deal with the pressures of having a family and Emma trying to raise the children on her own both have affairs, Flap with a young college student and Emma with Sam Burns (John Lithgow). Flap job eventually forces them to move to Kearney, Nebraska and their marriage continues to fall into disarray. The Horton’s lives are tragically put into perspective however when Emma finds a cancerous lump under her armpit.
Meanwhile, without her daughter there, Aurora Greenway is forced to live her own life. Still in constant contact with her daughter, Aurora and Emma talk on the phone often. Working her way through a string of interested gentlemen, including Vernon Dahlart (Danny DeVito), Aurora is attracted and drawn to her neighbor, Astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Aurora is a dramatic woman that needs to be in control of every situation while Garrett is a crude, fly by the seat of his pants, drunk who does not like to be tied down. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is watching Aurora and Garrett both adapt and deal with each other’s misgivings to eventually meet each other in the middle to create a workable relationship.
While the directing and script for this film were good, there were two aspects of film that absolutely blew me away. The first was character development. Not only do the characters in this film all have fairly large flaws but the film’s script accentuates and hinges upon these flaws. Throughout the film the characters are really forced to acknowledge and deal with their own flaws as well as many of the other characters’ flaws. It allows the characters to really grow, even if it is for the worse. The other aspect of this film that I found to be amazing was Jack Nicholson. Earning himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Nicholson stole the screen every time he was on it. Playing a misogynistic astronaut that has far outlived his glory days, Nicholson’s character learns to be an actual adult while cultivating a relationship with Aurora.
In my mind, Terms of Endearment is not a Best Picture winning film but when it comes down to it, none of the other Best Picture nominees, the Big Chill, the Right Stuff, Tender Mercies and the Dresser, were any more deserving. The film’s director and writer, James L. Brooks, took home an Oscar for Best Director and Best Writing and Shirley MacLaine earned her own Oscar for Best Actress. I would give this film a 6.5 out of 10. While I thought Jack Nicholson gave an outstanding performance I found the film to be somewhat boring and depressing and most of the characters did not get the final outcome the film seemed to be working towards.