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Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment, 1983

Over the course of several years, we follow the tumultuous, emotional relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). We watch the highs and lows of Emmaís marriage to college professor Flap (Jeff Daniels), as well as the contentious romance between Aurora and her womanizing, former astronaut neighbor Garrett (Jack Nicholson).

Full of some iconic sequences, as a whole this one failed to move me.

Iím not saying I come from a perfect family, but it took me a long time to understand just how unhealthy/toxic/manipulative/etc some relationships can be between parents and children. (I remember being at a sleepover at a friendís house and being just sort of baffled that my friendís dad seemed not only uninterested in her, but also kind of mean to her for no reason). Maybe for people who grew up in families like the one in this film, thereís more to get out of it.

But for me, well, not so much. The movie opens with Aurora deciding that out of protest over her daughterís choice of partner, she will simply not attend the wedding. Like . . . yikes. I mean, yes, Flap is a turd, but Emma loves him and he clearly also loves her. And from this jumping off point, the movie mostly felt like a greatest hits of people who were a total mess and just not that fun to spend time around.

Messy families are the bread and butter of a certain subset of drama-comedies, but I find that there has to be a balance between the quirky eccentricities and the actually messed up stuff to work. For me, the ratio was seriously off. Aurora is manipulative. Emmaís kind of whiny and bland. Flap, as mentioned, is a turd, and their family follows the classic arc of bending their lives to his career, only for him to commit the most predictable of domestic betrayals.

I think what I found most upsetting about the film was the way that we watch the damaged dynamics of Aurora and Emmaís relationship filter down into the relationship between Emma and her own children. For a movie thatís billed as a comedy, there sure was a lot of emotional, mental, and physical child abuse on display! The film plays these moments as if smacking your kids around on the sidewalk is just a natural part of the ups and downs of parenthood, and it made me incredibly uncomfortable.

The most palatable parts of the film involve the romance between Aurora and Garrett, and a subplot about Emma becoming attracted to a man named Sam (John Lithgow) after she finds out Flap has been unfaithful. I wasnít exactly swept away by either of these plots, but at least I didnít find them actively aggravating.

I can definitely see how certain moments in this film really grab people. Thereís an epic sequence of Aurora and Garrett driving along a beach. Thereís a very quotable sequence where a distraught Aurora goes toe-to-toe with hospital staff when she doesnít think Emma is getting sufficient care.

Ultimately, my distaste for the characters was not outweighed by its notable moments.