Terms of Endearment

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Terms of Endearment (1983)

Directed by James L. Brooks

Starring: Debra Winger, Shirley McClaine, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow

Aurora (McClaine) and her daughter Emma (Winger) have always been at odds. Aurora is a demanding mother and Emma is a rebellious daughter. When Emma and her new husband Flap (Daniels) move away, Emma begins to learn how hard marriage can be. Over time Aurora and Emma continue to share in the joys and pains of life, pushing one another to find new ways to be happy. Their love of one another and those around them is continually tested through tragedy and contention. Despite the strain in their relationship, Emma and Aurora are bound by a deeper love.

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Summarizing this story is really tough. It’s a well-written script that goes beyond the normal mother-daughter relationship drama. The movie was successful enough to take home five Oscars in 1984 including Best Picture and Best Writing. The film also earned Best Director for James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets). Shirley McClaine (The Apartment) won Best Actress and Jack Nicholson (Hoffa) took home the Best Supporting Actor statue. In addition to the wins, Debra Winger and John Lithgow were both nominated for their parts in the movie.

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The acting is definitely the star of the movie. They have a great script to work with, but the emotion brought out in the movie is really incredible. That shouldn’t be too surprising when four of the main stars in the movie were nominated for Academy Awards. Debra Winger and Shirley McClaine have a great chemistry on the screen. The tension and love that is expressed all at once it really nice. I was expecting good performances from the cast, but I was surprised with the performance by Jeff Daniels (Looper). He really did a great job as the conflicted husband and father in this film. Overall the acting is really good.

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The story for this film came to life from the novel by Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show). It’s a look at love and life from an angle often ignored by movie makers. It isn’t pretty, but the story is a statement about the determination required to love someone through the years. Not only in marriage, but as a parent and a child, the movie examines the way relationships are formed, damaged, and sometimes repaired.

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The film also features an Oscar nominated original score. The music is used wisely throughout the film to accentuate each scene. It’s always nice to have a score that’s memorable and easy to ignore all at once. The music worked together nicely with well-designed sets. The set design also earned an Oscar nod for the incredible world created throughout the movie. The homes they designed for each character seem to embody the personality of these vastly different people.

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I can’t criticize this film too much. All aspects of the movie are nicely done. I think it might not appeal to everyone since it has a sentimental and overly emotional feel to it. Still, if you’re a fan of the actors in this movie I think it’s one you need to see. It’s a powerful story about the reality of relationships and the power of love. I give this one 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Rating: R

Running Time: 132 minutes


  1. Ahhh, my classic project list keeps getting longer and longer…I can’t believe I never saw this. It seems like it’s sentimental in the way Beaches is from your review.


  2. Its a great film, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, but its worth it, so emotional, and that’s coming from a guy. I just pushes the right buttons.


  3. I much prefer Brooks’ Broadcast News. I just couldn’t get all that into this film, though it’s surely a fine picture.


    1. Broadcast News is one that I haven’t yet seen. I’ve read more than once that many people think Broadcast News is a better film though. I did like this one a lot though.


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