Warner Bros. // 1996 // 129 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 26th, 2013
"Do you mind aging?"
"No, because I've done it so well."
The irreplaceable Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine, The Apartment) is back and dealing with even more family drama in the sequel to 1983's Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star. After the death of her daughter Emma (Debra Winger, not seen here), Aurora raises her grandchildren, who have given her nothing but grief. Tommy (George Newborn, Father of the Bride) is angry and serving a prison sentence, Teddy (Mackenzie Astin, The Garbage Pail Kids) has shacked up with his girlfriend and their baby, and Melanie (Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers) has moved to Los Angeles with a philandering, aspiring model. At the same time, Aurora finds herself at odds with one of her late daughter's best friends, Patsy (Miranda Richardson, Sleepy Hollow), becomes attracted to her shrink (Bill Paxton, Aliens), and a bond between her and her housekeeper Rosie (Marion Ross, TV's Happy Days) is shaken by a revelation that thrusts Aurora into a tailspin.
Terms of Endearment was a revelation when it appeared in 1983. Written and directed by James L. Brooks (from a novel by Larry McMurtry), it was an odd hybrid of chick flick, romantic comedy, and Lifetime drama all rolled into one twisted, unique package. What made Terms of Endearment so endearing was the fact that Brooks didn't go for the easy laugh, nor the easy cry. Brooks' characters never reveled in clichés, which is why over thirty years later the film is still so wonderfully funny, warm, and touching.
In 1996 the decision was made to release a sequel to Terms of Endearment, director Robert Harling's The Evening Star. It's hard enough to follow up a movie that is critically lauded and well regarded; it's even more difficult when it's something like Terms of Endearment. Whereas Terms of Endearment dealt with the death of Aurora's daughter, The Evening Star wrestles with not one, not two, but three separate deaths. The film revels in so much death and sickness that you'd think you were watching an episode of E.R..
It will be no surprise to learn that The Evening Star doesn't come close to capturing how touching, amusing, and special Terms of Endearment was. That film was so good it won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Screenplay, and Best Director (James L. Brooks). That kind of prestige doesn't come easy, and the one thing that is sorely missing from The Evening Star is James L. Brooks' deft touch. There was an intangible mood that Brooks was able to inject into his film; while The Evening Star isn't terrible, it nearly crumbles under the weight of the first film's shadow.
The good news is that Shirley MacLaine returns to the role of Aurora Greenway with gusto and verve, showing why she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the tough yet fragile matriarch. If there's any single reason to see The Evening Star, it's MacLaine's sharp, clipped performance as a woman whose world spins around her like a hurricane caught up in a cyclone. Also returning is Jack Nicholson as boozy ex-astronaut, Garrett (now married with a family). Garrett and Aurora share a moment on the beach that matches anything in the first film; it's a shame the rest of the movie wasn't that appealing. Seeing MacLaine and Nicholson onscreen together again is one of life's true pleasures.
New additions to the cast include Marion Ross as Aurora's long suffering housekeeper who is about to discover the joys of marriage; Juliette Lewis as Aurora's promiscuous granddaughter; Miranda Richardson (replacing whomever that girl was) as Aurora's rival, Patsy; and Scott Wolf as Mel's sleazy live-in boyfriend. The most effective newcomer is Bill Paxton as Aurora's therapist and eventually her romantic partner; Paxton has long been an underrated actor, and his work here shows both nuanced humor and depth. His reasoning for being with Aurora gets one of the movie's biggest laughs.
Harling wrote the screenplay and directed the film (his only directing credit), which wavers back and forth between melodrama and comedic barbs. Harling's main failing is that he isn't able to mix the laughs and tears as easily as Brooks did; where Terms of Endearment was able to avoid clichés, The Evening Star often revels in them. Then again, maybe it's not Harling's fault entirely -- frankly, trying to make a movie as good as Terms of Endearment is like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa painting by putting her lesser known sister on canvas. By definition alone, it's just not going to measure up. Harling is able to offer up moments that come close to Brooks' previous film, but the whole endeavor sadly falls short.
The only extra feature is an informative commentary by writer/director Robert Harling.
If you were a fan of Terms of Endearment, you may find yourself disappointed with The Evening Star. It just doesn't live up to the absolute greatness of the original film. As it stands, The Evening Star has its moments (punctuated by a soft, memorable music score by William Ross). The good news (or bad, depending on your view point) is that the final moments of the film almost guarantee that a second sequel is out of the question. Even if it's on lesser terms, it's still nice to revisit MacLaine's Aurora Greenway in all her blustering charm.
Deserves to be seen, but not as impressive as its predecessor.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13