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Terms of Endearment ***
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Aurora Greenway: Shirley MacLaine

Emma Greenway Horton: Debra Winger

Garrett Breedlove: Jack Nicholson


Written and directed by James L. Brooks



     Terms of Endearment is a tale of relationships that captures the ties that bind us and the pain that tears us apart.  The relationships in question are both romantic and familial.  Aurora Greenway’s (Shirley MacLaine) husband dies when their daughter Emma is still young, and the mother starts depending on her daughter to be her strength. 

     Cut to years later when an adult Emma (Debra Winger) is preparing to wed Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels).  On the eve of the wedding, Aurora tells Emma that she thinks she is making a terrible mistake marrying Flap.  Emma tells Aurora she shouldn’t come to the wedding and Aurora thinks that’s a sensible idea, so she doesn’t. 

     In relative married bliss, Flap and Emma ignore the phone ringing, knowing its Aurora.  Annoyed by the incessant ringing, Emma angrily picks up the phone and tells Aurora to stop calling.  Seconds later, the two are chatting about the wedding gifts that were received like two excited schoolgirls.  Thus is the relationship between mother and daughter.

     A former astronaut, current cocky womanizer named Garrett Breedlove (Nicholson) moves next door to Aurora and immediately she can’t stand his boozy late night shenanigans.

     Flap gets a job in Iowa and soon Emma and Flap, along with their infant son in tow, leave Texas and Aurora all alone.  The solitude starts to wear on Aurora and she impulsively accepts a lunch invitation given by Garrett two years prior.  Romance between old people ensues in a similar way to that of the recent Something’s Gotta Give.

     MacLaine plays Aurora Greenway as a tough southern belle, but it is in the moments that her character is vulnerable that she is at her best.  There is an unfeeling scowl on her face for most of the picture, but when she laughs and cries and when she cries and screams is all the more affecting because of it. 

     Emma is a complicated character, perhaps the most complicated in the film because her life is so complicated.  Her characters motivations are unclear, but so are ours.  Winger deftly moves through the wide array of emotions and has a strange, natural air about her.  She’s good.  Really good.  Whatever happened to her?

     Nicholson is funny.  He gets chances to play physical comedy unseen in many of his films, and does so with the flair only he can.  Garrett is both cat and mouse, as is Aurora, in their continuing game of cat and mouse.  The dialogue between the two is great.  Even though the character is supporting, the performance is first-rate and memorable.  Nicholson has since played a similar character (in Something’s Gotta Give), a womanizer who is softer underneath than we originally think.  Garrett has a shrine-like display of astronaut memorabilia that he uses to impress woman that he brings into his home.  When Aurora says that it is sad that he has to do that, we realize it really is just as Garrett does.  His reaction is subtle, and it is the mark of a great actor that it was.   Nicholson as Garrett during the first scenes of his dating Aurora is as funny as anything ever was.  There’s a reason he won the Oscar for the role.  He deserved it.

     Writer/director James L. Brooks writes funny, sharp dialogue and guides his actors with a sure hand, but he couldn’t take me on the emotional journey with him.  The movie is full of great moments, but I wasn’t attached to the characters the film had spent its duration endearing me to unsuccessfully.  I like them all, sure.  But the payoffs at the end played normal to me.  I took it in and even smiled, but the depth of the journey was never reached.  I never got closer to the film than a bird’s eye view.  



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