Terms of Endearment (1983)

9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Smart script keeps it current

The turn into a tearjerker seems a little abrupt

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Terms of Endearment

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Comedy/Drama

Release Date(s):  December 9, 1983

MPAA Rating:  PG



Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) is a widowed mother who has one love in her life…her daughter Emma (Debra Winger).  The two are not only mother and daughter but best friends who share everything.  When Emma marries Flip Horton (Jeff Daniels) against Aurora’s wishes, Emma and Aurora find themselves living separate lives for the first time.  Emma struggles with married life and her ever growing family, and Aurora finds herself at odds with her womanizing former astronaut neighbor Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson).  When tragedy strikes, mother and daughter find themselves fighting a battle of life and death.


Yeah…I dug your little checkout line pick-up…

Directed by James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment adapts the 1975 novel by James McMurtry.  The comedy-drama became a big box office success.  The film received Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), and Best Adapted Screenplay with nominations for Best Actress (Debra Winger), Supporting Actor (John Lithgow), Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound.

You know what you are going to get when you watch Terms of Endearment.  You can tell it is one of those weepy movies but also humorous…and it delivers.  The movie helped to kind of forge this style of comedy-drama and through the years still proves to be one of the better ones.


In a couple of year’s you’ll be way too old for me, lady!

The script is pretty punchy for when it was written.  It has a lot of sly word play (particularly on the part of Nicholson and MacLaine) and despite ending up a tearjerker, you have a lot of humor.  It creates some great characters that you can’t entirely place judgment calls on.  Sure, Jeff Daniels’ character is a bit of a blowhard and a cheater, but you honestly feel a little sorry for him at the end of the film.  This is just an example because all the characters have faults which feels more like real life.

The movie does however end up a sob story and it is a bit of odd turn.  The comedy-drama wasn’t entirely finessed at the point that this movie was made and it seems like this could be a bit of a smoother transition, but it does feel very real.  Cancer can come fast and vicious and change life perspectives.  I do feel that the last half of the movie is quite touching at points, but you’d expect to see it coming more in a newer film (though the nice soundtrack does somehow easy you into it).


Jack Nicholson…out to break as many driving laws as he can in one scene

The cast for the film really helps sell it.  The movie had been tossed around for years in Hollywood and everyone from Janet Leigh and real life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis to Louise Fletcher, Jodie Foster, and Sissy Spacek were considered for the mother daughter roles.  MacLaine definitely is a great cast with comedic timing and she still can pull off the tougher scenes at the end of the film, but Winger has a tougher time with some of the comedy.  Jack Nicholson plays “Jack Nicholson” in the movie (in a role created for the film), but it is also interesting because he plays a much older role than he would later in the ’80s and ’90s.  Lithgow’s part is small but sweet as the man who is trapped in a small town world with a wife who is no longer interested in him and there is a small (weirdly placed) role for Danny Devito.  I feel a bit bad for Jeff Daniels who received little recognition for the role which did really require reach and I also feel that the two child actors (Huckleberry Fox and Troy Bishop) did a great job with some really tough scenes.


Well this goodbye is going to be really awkward if I live for another 5 months…

Terms of Endearment is one of those films that easy could have been written off as a sappy, romantic comedy with mass appeal if it hadn’t been for its snappy script and good cast.  The movie has surprisingly endeared over the years and still feels fresh since it doesn’t date itself much.  You can also probably thank Terms of Endearment for The Simpsons since James L. Brooks received a copy of Life in Hell as a gift at the end of the production and then hired Groening to do The Simpsons shorts of The Tracy Ulmann Show…so there’s that if nothing else.  Terms of Endearment was following in 1996 to much maligned The Evening Star.

[easyazon-block align=”center” asin=”B00EPQ7828″ locale=”us”]

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response