Terms of Endearment (1983)

Oh, hey, did you know Jack Nicholson is in this movie?  No?  Well, here he is.

 

This is a film about female friendships, and Jack Nicholson.  I liked the former, but could have done with a little less of the latter.

What’s particularly strong in this movie is the way the mother-daughter relationship is portrayed, both in its bond and in the inevitable conflict between the two.  Aurora is so often critical, even casually cruel to her daughter Emma (on the eve of her wedding to a man Aurora disapproves of, Mom tells her, “You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage.”).  And yet, they have an unusually fierce attachment, talking on the phone each morning, even when one or the other has company in bed.  It’s the complexity of that connection that epitomizes the family relationship – loyalty and antipathy all rolled up in one.

But Emma also maintains a lifelong friendship with Patsy, even throughout moves across the country, changes in fortune, childbirth.  As teenagers, they share dreams about their future, and there’s something so touchingly familiar in Emma’s certainty that their bond will last.  How many friends have you shared that same conversation with – and how many are still there for you?

Considering how much this film was touted as a story about women, I was a little surprised at the amount of screen time devoted to Jack Nicholson’s former-astronaut-turned-drunken-playboy.  And the inevitable, disappointing attraction that the prudish Aurora develops for him.  His storyline felt a little cliché for the sake of a movie like this, and I didn’t find whatever change of heart he may have had to be worthy of all the effort.  But then, I’m not really a Jack Nicholson fan, so maybe I’m in the minority on this one.  (In fairness, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a Jack Nicholson movie, and I feel strangely compelled to constantly write out Jack Nicholson’s full name every time I refer to him.  To Jack Nicholson, that is.)

Despite Jack Nicholson, the film earned a decent grade on the Bechdel Test.  We even managed to check off a passing grade in the first few minutes, as child-Emma consoles her anxious mother.  Sometimes later in life, the men get in the way of a proper Bechdel-approved conversation, but that’s probably true enough of most mother-daughter conversations after a certain point.

My only complaint about this film is that it dragged quite a bit in the second half.  The surprising twist it takes isn’t really that surprising – after all, these family dramas need to get their tension from something, and it might as well be somebody’s death.  In the process, the twist somehow manages both to spring out of nowhere and to prolong things at a snail’s pace, just to make sure every single character has a chance to talk to every single other character about what’s happening.  It’s like the multiple goodbyes of the end of The Lord of the Rings, which, unfortunately, is not being paired with this film.  Just you wait.

 

Theme:  Ladies on Film

Bechdel Test:  Passed!

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Grown women are prepared for life’s little emergencies.

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