Terms of Endearment (1983) – James L. Brooks

I like the first half of Terms of Endearment, a lot. But it goes away from what makes it great in it’s last third, specifically leaving the fascinating dynamic between Shirley MacLaine’s Aurora and the rakish Garrett played by Jack Nicholson and the dynamic between Aurora and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) or even the interplay between Emma and her husband Flap (Jeff Daniels) and her lover Sam (John Lithgow) for a melodramatic medical crises concerning Emma. The performers are too good to let this shift in focus to completely derail the movie but the last third is much weaker then the earlier sections. I suppose it’s a “life isn’t convenient” lesson that the movie tries to teach by shoehorning an unforeseeable crises that ends up dominating the final act but that could have happened without the over-the-top dramatics. The whole endeavor is somewhat made up for with a wonderful epilogue but I have to believe a different path would have been a wiser choice.

I don’t want my disillusion with the final third to take away from what a wonderful picture this is for an hour and a half. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation as a nebbishy vain Houston widow who is sought after by most of south Texas’s most boring men. Her relationship with the much more free-spirited Emma never strikes a false note despite sometimes being cruel, we follow along for sometime with these people and the movie allows us to get to know them and enjoy their company. It sets-up complicated and highly emotional situations between them and the medical plot doesn’t force them to deal with those issues but simply to forget them in support of Emma, which I suppose it would in real life. But it’s a movie, dammit, and there were things I wanted to see resolved. The movie is at it’s strongest when it follows Aurora, especially with Garret, the ridiculous former astronaut who happens to look and behave just like Jack Nicholson, but Winger, Daniels and a very sweet Lithgow certainly keep the curtain up, it’s too bad the movie abandons Lithgow and Nicholson in its final act.

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