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Terms of Endearment

Well the Halloweíen season is upon us, and for the My Year with Oscar project that means some pretty slim pickings. You see, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the Thirteenth and Childís Play never even got nominated, and if youíre looking for a Devilís Night movie, neither did The Crow. So we have to look to an Oscar winner that represents total horror to men, 1983ís Terms of Endearment.

Itís the story of a mother and daughter and their dysfunctional relationship. Debra Winger plays Emma, the daughter trying to get away from her mother Aurora, played by Shirley MacLaine. Aurora has some real abandonment issues, and exemplified by a flashback early in the movie where she tries to crawl into the crib to be with her infant daughter. When Emma gets married to a university professor whose name is for some reason Flap, her mom doesnít even show up for the wedding. She seems to go out of her way to express her displeasure of her son-in-law, and her daughter moving to Iowa with Flap and their son certainly doesnít help.

Soon Emmaís relationship with Flap is going downhill and she hooks up with a local banker. Of course Flap is busy getting busy with a grad student, and when Emma finds out, she is pissed off. Not pissed enough to get a divorce, but pissed off enough to take the kids to Houston for a week to visit her mother. Meanwhile her widowed mother, after years of leading on one hapless man after another, takes up with a former astronaut played by Jack Nicholson, who seems to be the only person able to treat her with honesty. Then after Flap moves the family to Nebraska, Emma is diagnosed with cancer. Emma decides her mother should take the kids, and then dies.

So, I know I said no movies seemed longer than Sound of Music. I should apologize. Terms of Endearment seems much longer. Emma and Aurora hate each other. Fine. We get it. The trouble is, then they like each other, with no reason for the change. All of a sudden when Emma comes home for her one week vacation from her horrid marriage, mother and daughter get along well.

The other trouble here is that none of these characters is especially likable. The astronaut is entertaining enough, but not a very big part of the proceedings. Aurora is just a bitch, and Emma is a hypocrite for getting pissy with her husband for his infidelity while she was cheating on him, but then women tend to be evil, so Iím not too shocked.

Winger and MacLaine both turn in fairly good performances, but there isnít much for them to work with. Nicholson is pretty good too in an equally limited role. Meanwhile Jeff Daniels is just kind of there, his talents basically wasted.

Other nominees include The Big Chill, cuz, you know, an hour and 45 minutes of yuppies in mourning with a 60ís soundtrack is fun, The Right Stuff, which is a good, but not great, examination of the early days of the space program, Tender Mercies, which is very good and features a great performance from Robert Duvall, but is even more slow moving than Terms of Endearment, and The Dresser, which no one has ever heard of, but evidently stars Albert Finney. Movies not nominated include Zelig, the Woody Allen movie that failed to live up to the promise of not being as whiny as other Woody Allen movies, Return of the Jedi, which was very good despite the death of all those innocent independent contractors, Private School, which pulls off the cinematic miracle of being a Phoebe Cates movie in which Phoebe Cates isnít the hot one (god bless you Betsy Russell, wherever you are), Scarface, staring Al Pacinoís little friend (say hello), and the movie you can see on Christmas, 24 times in a row, A Christmas Story. All of them are more entertaining than Terms of Endearment, but A Christmas Story is the best of them all. Itís funny, well-written, well-acted, and it stands the test of time far better than an overwrought mother-daughter drama. Plus, if some basic cable network aired Terms of Endearment over and over for an entire day, they would quickly go bankrupt. That ought to tell you something right there.


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