Classic Film Review: Terms of Endearment (1983)

And the Oscar Goes to:

Terms of Endearment, 1983

Directed by: James L. Brooks

Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, John Lithgow


A story of a mother and daughter, spread over many years, and both of whom are searching for love. The mother, Aurora (Shirley MacLaine), lives in Houston whereas the daughter, Emma (Debra Winger), moves to Iowa with her new husband Flap (Jeff Daniels), who Aurora dislikes, to the point that she refused to attend their wedding. Aurora and Emma often clash throughout the film, most notably over Emma’s wedding and constant pregnancies (Aurora wasn’t happy after Emma revealed she was pregnant for the third time). Aurora soon befriends her neighbour, retired astronaut Garrett (Jack Nicholson, Mars Attacks) whereas Emma finds romance in the arms of another in Sam (John Lithgow).

I know the acting awards were presented to Jack Nicholson (Best Supporting Actor) and Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress), but my favourite performance came from Debra Winger, who I thought was amazing in this film. I fell in love with her portrayal of Emma to the point where I genuinely cared about the ending. Jack Nicholson was brilliant, combining a craziness of Jack Torrance (The Shining) with the confidence of Frank Costello (The Departed), and was a brilliant opposite to Shirley MacLaine’s more strict and prim-and-proper behaviour. The whos casting choices (down to having Danny Devito, Mars Attacks, and John Lithgow in tow, too) was brilliant.

However my biggest issue with this film fell with the presentation category. We jump from one year to the next early on, and I would have appreciated them telling us which year we were in as often going three years into the future character’s may not change their appearance too much so it would have been more beneficial for a quick year stamp with each change. And most of the scenes throughout the film are pretty short; none lasting more than a few minutes before we’re somewhere else; it all pushed the plot along at a nice pace with regards to film time, but it felt, at times, like we were just being given a summary rather than seeing the event unfold. And I also had mixed feelings about its music; for the most part it was fine, and perfectly matched the tone of the film, but the director chose, on more than one occasion, to insert music, out of nowhere, to a scene to match the change in emotional conversation between its characters. One scene has Garrett and Aurora chatting, and then Garrett becomes softer in his speech and more emotional, and this is accompanied by the music, while I agree it works well to match the tone, it was so out-of-nowhere that it felt forced in because the characters were being nice. The writing and acting were brilliant enough for some scenes to show this emotion without the added music.

A really nice film throughout with an emotional story that you can be invested in (with help from its brilliant cast). It brilliantly displayed a timeline of events, spanning many years, with each scene feeling important; however its presentation also let it down at times. Funny, emotional, moving, entertaining.


Plot: * * *

Acting: * * * * *

Writing: * * * * *

Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * * * ¾


2 thoughts on “Classic Film Review: Terms of Endearment (1983)

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