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Terms of Endearment

The 1983 Terms of Endearment earned an Oscar for Best Picture, while James L. Brooks earned two for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and acting awards went to Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress) and Jack Nicholson (Best Supporting Actor). So how can it be that one of Hollywood's most beloved films is a dreadful, nearly unwatchable load of crap? Despite being a benchmark of the chick-flick/tearjerker genre, Endearment is about a mother and daughter who hate and love each other, men who don't understand how to behave or commit, and manipulative plot devices (like a slow death from cancer). Is this something for every woman to love? Shirley MacLaine stars as Aurora, a sharp, refined Texas belle, while Debra Winger is her daughter Emma, an unpolished down-to-earth type who marries a local boy and becomes the wife of a struggling professor, forced to live in various dull Midwest locations while raising three children. The film covers 30+ years of the relationship between this mother/daughter duo, chronicling the fighting, the gossiping, and their attempts to love and support each other when they are not hating and abusing each other. Aurora is lonely, only moved to try real love when a womanizing ex-astronaut (Nicholson) moves in next door. Meanwhile, back in Des Moines, Emma is carrying on an affair with the local banker (John Lithgow) while her husband (Jeff Daniels) is sneaking around with one of his graduate students. If Terms of Endearment is somewhat guilty of a maudlin tug or two at the heartstrings, the appallingly negative attitude the movie imparts towards men is, by current standards, almost scandalous. Daniels is saddled with the thankless part of a father who is totally detached from his kids; Lithgow, as Emma's lover, is weak-willed and whiny (and we never do learn why Emma would even be interested in him); and Nicholson's character is a playboy who chases young women and acts like an out-of-control adolescent. It is this sentiment that permeates the film — don't expect much from men, because they are so very disappointing — making Terms of Endearment an embarrassing reminder of '80s attitudes best left behind. Paramount's DVD release of Terms of Endearment is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with audio in a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix or Dolby 2.0 mono. The film itself often looks dull, with a hodgepodge of shots, styles, and lighting (Brooks admits that everyone on the film was a novice, and it shows.) The added commentary by Brooks, co-producer Penney Finkelman Cox, and production designer Polly Platt, is light and unfortunately limited, as too much time during the commentary is spent with the three of them just watching and reacquainting themselves with the film. That's something I — and all DVD fans — would prefer they had done before somebody hit the "record" button. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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