Friday, November 14, 2014

Terms of Endearment (Best Picture 1983)

Terms of Endearment is an odd choice for Best Picture. It is another one of those "intimate" films, not an "epic." The Academy went wild over it, nominating it in eleven categories and awarding it Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Debra Winger was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to co-star Shirley MacLaine.

The film starts with a young MacLaine as Aurora fussing over baby Emma, who is fast asleep. She wakes her, making her cry, to placate her own feeling of anxiety about her. The film cotinues to show scenes of their mother-daughter relationship as Emma (Winger) loses her father, but must continue to deal with her over-bearing and slightly odd mother.

Somehow Emma meets a man and they plan to get married. However, Aurora disapproves of Flap (Jeff Daniels), so does not go to their wedding. Emma and Flap work to build a happy home on his low teacher salary. After Tommy is born, Flap gets a job at a university in Des Moines, so the three of them leave Texas. Their second son, Teddy, is born, and life goes on until Emma believes Flap is having an affair. Emma meets a lonely banker, Sam (John Lithgow) and their irregular lunch dates eventually morph into an affair. Emma and Flap have a daughter, and after she is born Emma confronts Flap about his affairs. She goes back to Aurora to decide what to do with her life, eventually deciding to go back to Flap. Flap has a job offer in Nebraska, so the family moves there.  

While all this is happening to Emma, Aurora surrounds herself with suitors, such as Danny DeVito. Her next door neighbor is Garrett, a former astronaut who holds pool parties on the weekends with younger women and tries to sleep with as many of them as he can. Jack Nicholson chews the scenery as the unhappy man. He tries to be nice to Aurora, and she responds initially, but their personalities are too different. He tries to "cut to the chase" and she disapproves, so they do not speak for several years.  At her 50th birthday she is feeling old, so she goes over to his house to accept the lunch date he had offered several years before. The next day they have a wild time at a restaurant, and end up driving in circles on the beach in his convertible. She is offended by him again, but after mulling it over and talking to Emma about him, she decides to sleep with him. This begins a romance between two similarly lonely but anti-social people. They inch closer and closer to each other, sharing secrets and fears. However, when Emma and her family arrive, Garrett is embarrassed by their situation. He does not like feeling to dependent on Aurora, so he breaks it off with her.

After Emma and her family move to Nebraska, on a routine visit to their family doctor he finds lumps under her arm. They turn out to be malignant cancerous tumors, and Emma is given a death sentence. She accepts an offer from her best friend, Patsy, to visit New York City, but Patsy's friends are shallow idiots. As Emma gets weaker and weaker, Aurora learns to be nicer to her grand-children. Garrett shows up to give Aurora emotional support, and they awkwardly admit their love for each other. Aurora has her last fight with Flap, telling him that he can't keep his children. He is angry and walks way, but when Emma tells him the same thing, he reluctantly agrees with her and allows Aurora to raise them. Emma tells her sons not to worry about being mad at her for dying, but to try to remember all the good times they had together, and that she loves them. Tommy is upset and angry at his mother for dying. When he bad-mouths her, Aurora slaps him, then both cry as they realize that Emma did the best she could. When Emma dies, Aurora and Flap share their only emotional moment together, equally shattered. After the funeral, Garrett tries to reach out to Tommy, as Flap breaks down with Patsy. Aurora is back to being her hard-as-nails persona, determined not to be hurt again?

This film is definitely a Shirley MacLaine vehicle. She overpowers every scene she is in, and hovers in the emotional background of those she is not in. She is fantastic as a woman who is unable to show affection in socially acceptable ways. Debra Winger is also great as her daughter, Emma, the long-suffering wife and mother who always seems to have a bright outlook on life (even when fighting terminal cancer). Their supporting cast is top-notch, which helps understand why this film was chosen as Best Picture: the ensemble is wonderful. John Lithgow and Jack Nicholson were both nominated as Best Supporting Actor; Nicholson won. Even the boys playing Emma's sons hit no false notes. This is not a Gandhi, but in the school of Best Picture films that includes Marty, Kramer vs Kramer, and Ordinary People, this is a bona-fide classic. 

Terms of Endearment
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1983*
Produced and Directed  by James L. Brooks
Screenplay by James L. Brooks
Based on the book by Larry McMurtry 

A bit long, but it gives you the "feel" of the film

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Big Chill
The Dresser
The Right Stuff
Tender Mercies
Coincidentally or by design, this year's nominees were predominantly "intimate" films. The Big Chill is the famous reunion of college friends from the Sixties, getting reacquainted after a friend's funeral. The Dresser is the filmed version of a play featuring only two characters, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, as an aging actor and his back-stage assistant/handler/"dresser." Both were nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies. That story is of an aging, alcoholic country-music singer seeking redemption. The Right Stuff is the one "epic" in the bunch. This is the film about the beginning of NASA and the US space program. I remember wanting to see this film when it came out. However, at three hours, and being based on a book that I could not get through, I never did see it.

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