Number 77: Terms of Endearment (Best Picture Ranking)
Terms of Endearment is the sentimental story of a stormy mother-daughter relationship that is marked by happiness and tragedy. Like Going my Way, Terms of Endearment falls in the category that I call ‘good, but unremarkable’. Overall, I think the movie does not have much going for it. The stories are nice but nothing that couldn’t be done in an average TV-movie and the ending feels rather forced, as if the movie makers didn’t know how to come to any conclusion and thought ‘Hey, let’s throw in some cancer!’ Apart from that, there is a catchy soundtrack and some funny moments and I won’t deny that James L. Brooks knows how to manipulate the audience – no matter how many times I watch this movie, at the end my eyes are always wet. So, why do I rank this so low? It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it’s touching and charming. Well, yes, it is all this but a lot of movies achieve this and Terms of Endearment never really leaves this aforementioned feeling of being an average TV-movie behind it. And even the sentimental or comedy aspects of the story don’t come from a brilliant script or clever direction, but at the end, there is only one aspect in Terms of Endearment that is truly outstanding and carries the whole production: the acting.
Terms of Endearment gives showcases to Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow and two extremely talented child actors. If this movie didn’t possess such a strong ensemble, nothing would work as well as it does.
This may sound as if great acting isn’t enough for me. Don’t get me wrong, great performances are, for me, the most important aspect of a movie and it really raises the quality of Terms of Endearment but when I judge a whole movie, I just want something more. Sophie’s Choice or Monster are also movies that offer true tour-de-forces from the actors but that doesn’t make them better movies overall. And apart from the acting, Terms of Endearment doesn’t offer more. The ending of the story is only so heartbreaking because Debra Winger has showed such realism in crafting a very human character, the comedy only works because Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson are two veterans who sparkle together. Personally, I get all my emotional connection from the performances and not from the story. That’s why I can easily praise the acting in Terms of Endearment but barely anything else.
The movie simply lacks a certain feeling, it’s interesting while it lasts but, apart from the performances, it doesn’t stay. Most movies make me praise a performance in connection with the picture or as a part of the overall vision, but when I think of Shirley MacLaine’s ‘Give my daughter the shot!’ or Debra Winger’s goodbye to her children, I only think of the actors but never of the movie they are in. One could say that these performances should be in a better movie but on the other hand, these performances make this movie what it is. Without this strong cast, I doubt that the Oscars or the critics had really noticed it because there is so little to notice.
I appreciate certain aspects, the way Debra Winger and Jeff Daniels create a strong realism as a tense couple while Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson do more comedy while also remaining surprisingly human. The movie knows how to always keep a balance between being real and exaggerated, between comedy and drama. So, yes, Terms of Endearment is certainly recommendable and I don’t want to complain about its win. Actually, even though my ranking is only at position 77, we now already enter the area of movies I appreciate much more than those mentioned so far. Like Going my Way, Terms of Endearment doesn’t do anything wrong but it’s never really special either. I appreciate it for giving a very talented cast the opportunity to shine but it just needed some more interesting aspects besides that.