Terms Of Endearment dazzled critics and audiences alike with its believable, insightful story of two captivating people, mother and daughter, unforgettably played by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger. From grand slapstick to deepest sentiment, director James L. Brooks masterfully paints scenes from their evolving 30-year relationship.
Jack Nicholson turns in a great comic performance as Maclaine's neighbor, a boozy, womanizing former astronaut.
Winner of five Academy Awards®: Best Picture 1983; Best Actress - Shirley MacLaine; Best Supporting Actor - Jack Nicholson; Best Director and Best Screenplay Adaptation - James L. Brooks.
Though it won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, 'Terms of Endearment' has always struggled to earn the respect it deserves. Its estrogen-fueled storyline about a close yet volatile relationship between a mother and daughter, their combustible romances, and the ultimate medical crisis that tears their respective worlds apart screams Lifetime Movie of the Week, and over the years, the film's detractors have called it shamelessly tear-jerking, manipulative, and trite. Yet somehow writer-director James L. Brooks and his talented cast infuse the seemingly cloying, clichéd material with enough warmth, wisdom, wit, and brutal honesty to elevate it high above typical genre entries. While not as searing and revelatory as some family dramas, 'Terms of Endearment' strikes many chords, and its undeniable humanity keeps it relatable. It will make you laugh, it certainly will make you cry (if it doesn't, you're made of stone), and most importantly, it will make you cherish the relationships in your own life, especially the rocky ones.
If ever a film runs the gamut of emotions, it's 'Terms of Endearment,' and though nothing in its trailer would suggest the movie is anything but an innocuous, light-hearted look at familial foibles, things take a serious turn during the narrative's final quarter. Some find the jarring change of tone difficult to swallow and out of left field, but life is notorious for throwing curveballs, and the way the film reflects such devastating unpredictability is one of its many strengths. Another is Brooks' adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel, which brings a gallery of distinct characters to brilliant life. Brooks' previous experience in TV sitcoms (he produced such legendary programs as 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'Taxi') helps him fashion an appropriate rhythm of dialogue that lends the various verbal zingers and snappy retorts maximum impact. He also laces the serious scenes with just the right level of humor to continually emphasize each character's unique qualities.
And it's those qualities that make almost every character a gem. Arguably one of the all-time great female screen roles, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) is an uptight, judgmental, uncompromising pillar of strength who loves her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) unconditionally, but often shrouds her affection with relentless criticism and blunt remarks. A prisoner of her rigid principles, Aurora disapproves of Emma's impending nuptials to English professor Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), telling her in classic Aurora fashion, "You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage." Nonplussed but undeterred, the free-wheeling, equally outspoken Emma goes ahead with the union, and almost immediately begins having children and relishing her life as a stay-at-home mom. Marital stresses between Emma and Flap do develop, however, changing the direction and dynamics of their lives, just as a fed-up Aurora decides to throw caution to the wind, dump her three worshipping yet impotent suitors, and pursue a relationship with her randy next-door neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), a drunken former astronaut who over the years has used his lofty status to bed a bevy of young babes. As Aurora and Emma try to manage their respective bumpy relationships, they also try to come to terms with each other, but an unexpected illness rocks the foundation of both their lives.
Juggling humor and pathos is tricky business, but Brooks navigates the dangerous minefield with aplomb, as do his actors, whose spot-on performances are a joy to watch. First and foremost, it's impossible to imagine anyone other than MacLaine as Aurora. Like Bette Davis' Margo Channing in 'All About Eve,' Judy Garland's Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz,' and Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara in 'Gone With the Wind,' Aurora is MacLaine's signature role, and she puts her indelible stamp on the often maddening, always spirited, and forever feisty character. Whether freaking out over the prospect of becoming a grandmother, trading barbs with Nicholson over lunch, extolling the ecstasy of middle-age sex, or, in her most memorable moment, hysterically chewing out a brigade of hospital nurses as she implores them to "give my daughter the shot!!!!", MacLaine is nothing less than genuine, and her admirable work justly earned her a long overdue Academy Award.
Reportedly, MacLaine and Winger did not get along at all off-screen, rarely speaking to each other when the cameras stopped rolling, yet their on-screen rapport is legendary. Their conversations brim with the heightened level of intimacy only a real mother and daughter could achieve, and Winger's naturalness, spunk, warmth, and deep attachment to her mother and children shine through at every turn. Hers is another bravura performance, and it's a shame she couldn't have been honored with an Oscar as well.
And then there's Nicholson. In a supporting role, Jack plays a character as delightfully devilish as his own persona, and comes close to stealing every scene in which he appears. With classic lines like "We're going to need a lot of drinks...to kill the bug up your ass," "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes," and "I was inches from a clean getaway," all delivered with an impish glint, Nicholson gets plenty of laughs, but also displays a rare sensitivity and tenderness that makes his portrayal utterly winning. He, too, won a well-deserved Oscar, beating out co-star John Lithgow (also memorable as Emma's mild-mannered, sexually frustrated lover), the first of two he would receive in Brooks films. (The other came 14 years later for 'As Good as It Gets.') Also worthy of a nomination, Jeff Daniels, as Emma's irresponsible, selfish, and philandering husband, files a marvelously nuanced performance that launched a stellar film career.
Any discussion of 'Terms of Endearment,' however, would not be complete without lauding the excellent work of the movie's child actors. Brooks wrings from this juvenile quartet some of the most natural and affecting portrayals I have ever seen. The reactions shots of Troy Bishop as Emma and Flap's sullen and resentful son Tommy are especially telling, and the unvarnished emotion expressed by adorable Huckleberry Fox as younger son Teddy during a devastating scene will truly break your heart. It's moments such as these that heighten the story's impact and make the film resonate.
'Terms of Endearment' shows its age around the edges, but remains a delightfully humorous, deeply affecting study of interpersonal relationships. Like the tagline says, "Come to laugh, come to cry, come to care, come to terms." Such simplicity defines this intimate movie that celebrates our emotional complexities and the ties that both bind us and rip us apart.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Terms of Endearment' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Warner has fashioned a faithful 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that maintains the movie's medium grain structure, yet features excellent clarity and contrast. The pristine print is devoid of any marks, nicks, or scratches, and though some scenes sport a more textured look than others, due to fluctuating grain levels, the film maintains a refreshing natural appearance that suits the intimate subject matter well. Colors are bright and vibrant, with the flowers in Aurora's garden, the green foliage, and various bits of costuming exuding a lovely sheen, but fleshtones err a tad toward the orange side. Inky black levels lend appropriate weight to nocturnal scenes, while whites remain stable and resist blooming.
Close-ups exhibit wonderful amounts of fine detail, allowing us to drink in the varied nuances of individual performances, yet background elements tend to be slightly fuzzy, especially in scenes with pronounced depth of field. No noise, banding, or crush afflict the image, however, and any digital tinkering has been judiciously applied and escapes notice. Though I haven't seen any other home video editions of 'Terms of Endearment,' I can't imagine this Best Picture winner looking better than it does here. Fans should be pleased with this solid rendering; just don't expect any revelatory moments.
Two audio options are included on the disc - a new lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a restored Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. The DTS-HD MA sound is full bodied and well modulated, but both surround activity and front-channel stereo separation are practically non-existent. The music score nicely fills the room and is distinguished by excellent fidelity and tonal depth, but not much in the way of ambient effects bleed into the rears. 'Terms of Endearment' is, after all, a dialogue-driven film, but accents such as screeching tires and an over-active washing machine are crisp and distinct. A wide dynamic scale keeps distortion at bay, even when MacLaine gets a little screechy, and though the subwoofer is all but silent, subtle bass frequencies possess good weight and provide essential warmth to the track.
The all-important conversations are clear and easy to comprehend, and any age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackles have been meticulously erased. Solid but unspectacular is the best way to describe this workmanlike transfer that never muscles in on the narrative and its powerful emotional thread.
Just a couple of extras are included. A retrospective featurette with MacLaine, Winger, Nicholson, Daniels, and Lithgow would have been a special feature indeed, but is not part of this package.
One of the best films ever produced about the vagaries of familial relationships, 'Terms of Endearment' deftly balances humor with heartbreak as it examines the tug of war between a mother and daughter, husband and wife, and next-door neighbors who form a most unlikely union. A superb script and top-notch performances distinguish this deserved Best Picture winner that wrings every ounce of emotion from the material, which runs the gamut from hilarious one-liners to some of the most unabashed tear-jerking moments ever committed to celluloid. Warner's Blu-ray presentation is short on supplements, but solid video and audio transfers make this catalogue release worthy of a purchase for fans. And if you've never seen this intimate, involving film, now is the perfect time to experience its warmth and wit. Highly recommended.