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Case Number 01135

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Terms Of Endearment

Paramount // 1983 // 131 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 23rd, 2001

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All Rise...

The Charge

"Here comes the bride…"

Opening Statement

Terms Of Endearment swept the Oscars in 1983, winning five awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Director James L. Brooks took Larry McMurtry's novel and turned it into an offbeat comedy about love, tragedy, and everything in between. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger (Legal Eagles), and Jack Nicholson, Terms Of Endearment brings it's touchingly cockeyed look at life and love to DVD via Paramount.

Facts of the Case

Meet Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Winger). Never in the history of mothers and daughters have people loved and fought as much as these two. Emma is a dreamer who rebels against her mother the more she hangs on. Aurora often puts Emma down (at one point telling her that she is not special enough to overcome a bad marriage), though more out of love than spite. She seems bitter at the hand life has dealt her, and takes it out on Emma when she has the chance.

Terms Of Endearment follows these two characters as they experience the loves of their lives and the heartbreak associated with everyday living. Emma grows up to meet Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), a nice but unstable guy whom she marries. Aurora lives next door to Garrett (Nicholson), a womanizing ex-astronaut who talks about sex more than Hugh Hefner. Despite his shortcomings, Aurora seems to have a soft spot for Garrett.

The years pass as people come and go, and life moves on for Aurora and Emma. The Hortons have children as Garrett and Aurora become more aware of each other. Through thirty years we experience the failures and triumphs of these characters, until a final test forces them to look at their life and relationships.

The Evidence

Terms Of Endearment just may sneak up on you. Most guys will not want to see this film. "Ahh!," will be their cry, "It's a chick flick!" Yes, if you want to get technical, this is a chick flick. There's more sap contained herein than in the entire Redwood Forest. Even though Terms Of Endearment has many three-hankie moments, it's got a very offbeat sense of humor that men might enjoy.

The script by director James L. Brooks plays on our conceptions of what these types of movies should look like. Just as Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea toyed with our ideas on what a monster/action movie should be, Terms Of Endearment also fiddles with our expectations on what a drama/comedy should do. During an emotional moment when Emma is leaving for a new town with Flap and her kids, she kisses Aurora and tells Flap to "drive away slow." Now, the next logical step would have been a poignant creeping drive away with emotional music playing in the background. Instead Terms Of Endearment takes a hard right where a left was assumed. Moments like this lift the picture above every other sentimental comedies and transforms it into something better. Brooks' dialogue is punchy and fast, each sentence giving new insight into the characters' often-strange behavior. There were times when I had tears of laughter and sadness at the same time.

Shirley MacLaine won a well-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of Aurora Greenway. Aurora is the type of mother that cares so much for her Emma that she smothers her with love and domination, angering her with her ridiculous rules and statements. Aurora's trouble is that she's not sure how to live her life. Apprehension dominates her world, and when Garrett is thrust upon her she's confused about how to react to his attentions. Garrett is the complete opposite of Aurora. Nicholson brings scattershot warmth to Garrett, a very funny and amusingly self-interested lout. Where Aurora is careful and prissy, Garrett is off-the-wall, finding fun in getting Aurora's goat. My two cents worth is that these days, Jack is a parody of Jack, a caricature of Jack Nicholson. Terms Of Endearment shows Nicholson as a character that is very funny and unlike anything he'd really played before. Rounding out the main cast is Debra Winger, superb as a woman who has her head in the clouds and always trying to see the bright side of things. Winger and MacLaine, as rumor has it, did not get along very well during the shoot. Either way, their performances are both masterful and well deserving of the acclaim they received.

The supporting cast fairs well, lead by Danny DeVito as a pursuing suitor of Aurora's affections and Lisa Hart Carroll as Patsy, Emma's best friend. John Lithgow makes a cameo (of sorts) as Emma's "friend in need," and Jeff Daniels is very charming as Flap, Emma's hanky-panky husband.

Finally there is Michael Gore's score, which is lush and nostalgic. Rarely has music been so fitting for a film. Gore has worked on other films (Punchline), though never went on to become a well known composer with the likes of John Williams or Danny Elfman. Here is demonstrates a canny ability to create warmth and affection, a beautiful companion piece to the film.

Like Aurora, Terms Of Endearment looks very good for its age. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is mostly free of any grain or defect that you'd most likely see in an early '80s film. Colors were generally very bright, blacks solid and thick. Softness was often apparent, though it looks filtered and was apparently done on purpose by the filmmakers. Even with the soft look the film looks excellent, giving it a naturally warm feel. A well-done transfer by Paramount.

Audio is presented in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, as well as the original theatrical mono presentation. The 5.1 track sounds very good, though this is not an effects or directional heavy movie. Michael Gore's score is brought up front and sounds great, and the dialogue is always clear and crisp. This is an older film and it's presently surprising to hear the soundtrack in such great shape. The original mono version is not half as good as the remix, but for those of you who are "purists" and need the original feel, it will do just fine. Also included is a French Mono language track, as well as English subtitles.

Extra features start off with the typical theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Also included is a commentary track by director James L. Brooks, co-producer Penney Finkelman Cox, and Production Designer Polly Platt. The track's main purpose, says Brooks, is to give "honest" insight into the film. Brooks expounds upon the film's main purpose (to be a comedy) and how he looked to make the whole thing truthful. Along the way, history of the film is shared, tidbits are exposed (did you know Albert Brooks is the voice of Aurora's husband in the opening scene?), and humor is shared (when discussing the cancer aspect, Brooks was worried that if he didn't get it right, people would think he was "full of shit"). Since it's no secret that MacLaine and Winger fought like dogs during the shoot, and plenty of juicy dirt is exposed by the group (and a lot of it was Winger's fault). The track is a nice listen after viewing the film.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Once again I have searched my soul for negative aspects of the film I am reviewing and I have come up empty. I hate to sound like I'm gushing, but I am: Terms Of Endearment really is a rare treat. Successfully fusing elements of comedy, tragedy, and a sideways look at life in one great film is what makes Terms Of Endearment such a marvel.

Wait, I forgot that this was the section where I say bad things about the movie…umm…oh, I have it! Terms Of Endearment has end credits!

And there you have it.

Closing Statement

Chosen as the best film of 1983, Terms Of Endearment endures almost twenty years later, continuing to be a very humorous and heartwarming comedy. The actors, the directing, and the script are all top notch, and the Paramount DVD is worth the twenty bucks or so you'll plop down. With a decent transfer, a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and a fun commentary track, Terms Of Endearment is a must of any film lover's library. Right next to Halloween II and Tremors.

A lesser sequel, The Evening Star, followed years later. Though critically panned, it's not half bad and certainly worth tracking down.

The Verdict

An excellent film and a great DVD, Terms Of Endearment is free to go! Hear the birds sing and watch the butterflies soar, what a beautiful day it is!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 93
Audio: 92
Extras: 83
Acting: 98
Story: 98
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer
• Commentary by director James L. Brooks, co-producer Penney Finkelman Cox, and Production Designer Polly Platt


• IMDb

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