There is a certain type of film that flourished throughout the 1980s, and that is the emotional family drama. These films look at the developing relationships between close family members or lifelong friends and vary in quality. Of these films that won the Best Picture award, ‘Terms of Endearment’ is my least favourite.
The film charts the relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger), from Emma’s birth until death separates them. Aurora is a fearsome character who finds it difficult to express to her daughter how much she loves her, whereas Emma is the daughter who, smothered by her mother, marries the first man that she finds and has children of her own.
The main relationship in the film is between Aurora and Emma, but we are also invited to look at others: between Emma and her husband, between Emma and her son, between Aurora and her son-in-law, and most interestingly between Aurora and her next door neighbour Garrett (played by Jack Nicholson). Nicholson’s character is a womanising retired astronaut whom Aurora initially cannot stand, and later falls in love with.
There are good things about this film. Most noticeably is Shirley MacLaine’s performance, who won the Leading Actress Oscar for this performance. She plays her part with conviction and she truly brings the part of this difficult woman to life. The film is at its best when she is on screen. The other performances I am less keen on: Debra Winger is fairly average and lets herself be overacted by her older co-star, Jeff Daniels is largely forgettable as her husband, and personally I find Jack Nicholson just too over-the-top to take seriously. It is because of this that I find the film hard to like. I watch this film and at no point can I really believe that MacLaine and Nicholson would ever like each other. She is just too proper and he is too over-the-top for be to believe that they would ever want to spend any time with each other.
The mother-daughter relationship is more credible. I find their relationship believable, and I can understand why they act in the way that they do in the final half hour of the film. The final part of the film has one aim and that is to make its audience weep as the characters are forced to acknowledge their true feelings for each other. It’s the natural conclusion for the film, and I think that there are more emotional endings in this type of film (‘Kramer vs Kramer’ being a good example), which are less predictable and better written.
I do not dislike this film, but I think of it more as a weepy romantic comic drama than a really high quality piece of cinema.