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Terms of Endearment (film)

Terms of Endearment
File:Terms of Endearment, 1983 film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James L. Brooks
Produced by James L. Brooks
Screenplay by James L. Brooks
Based on Terms of Endearment 
by Larry McMurtry
Starring Shirley MacLaine
Debra Winger
Jack Nicholson
Danny DeVito
Jeff Daniels
John Lithgow
Music by Michael Gore
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Editing by Richard Marks
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) (limited)
Running time 131 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million
Box office $108,423,489

Terms of Endearment is a 1983 comedy-drama film adapted from the eponymous novel by Larry McMurtry directed, written, and produced by James L. Brooks and starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow. The film covers 30 years of the relationship between Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Winger).

The film received 11 Academy Award nominations and won five. Brooks won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) while MacLaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress and Nicholson won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, it won four Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actress in a Drama (MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson), and Best Screenplay (Brooks).


Brooks wrote the supporting role of Garrett Breedlove for Burt Reynolds, who turned down the role due to a verbal commitment he'd made to appear in The Cannonball Run. "There are no awards in Hollywood for being an idiot," Reynolds later said of the decision.[1]


Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) are mother and daughter, both searching for deep romantic love. Beginning with Emma's early childhood, Aurora reveals how difficult and caring she can simultaneously be by nearly climbing into Emma's crib in order to make sure her daughter is breathing—only to be reassured once Emma starts crying (after physically waking her up). After the death of Aurora's husband and Emma's father Rudyard (A. Brooks), Aurora and Emma have an extremely close love-hate mother/daughter relationship as Emma grows up.

The story follows both women through several years as each seeks a way of finding joy. Emma gets married immediately upon graduating high school in the Houston area to Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), of whom Aurora so disapproves that she refuses to attend the wedding. Emma's best friend Patsy Clark (Lisa Hart Caroll) continues on to college, eventually becoming successful and rich in New York City.

Emma has two children with Flap, who becomes a college professor in Des Moines, Iowa, separating the family hundreds of miles from Emma's meddlesome mother. She later telephones to ask her mother for money when she is pregnant with her third child. Aurora, not knowing by the telephone call that Emma is already several months pregnant, wants Emma to get an abortion. Emma's once-passionate marriage to Flap becomes strained, thanks mostly to his philandering. She eventually has a secret romantic affair with married, small-town, older banker Sam Burns (John Lithgow).

At the same time, Aurora remains celibate but cultivates the attention of several gentlemen in the area, some rather bizarre. However, she is attracted to her next-door neighbor of 15 years, the womanizing, alcoholic retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Aurora and Garrett eventually go on a lunch date, make love, and develop a tenuous relationship.

Emma returns to her mother's home in Houston after discovering her husband is having an affair with a young grad student named Janice (Kate Charleson). Emma's appearance along with her three children makes Garrett uncomfortable, as he has been single for a long time. Flap telephones and she reluctantly returns home to Iowa, trying reconciliation with him. Unwilling to become a one-woman man, Garrett breaks up with Aurora, making her feel "humiliated."

Emma ends the relationship with Sam as soon as Flap accepts a new teaching position in Kearney, Nebraska. Although she does not want to, Emma agrees to relocate to further Flap's career. She soon discovers that Janice is attending the same college where Flap now works, realizing that Flap followed her to Nebraska. Emma angrily confronts Janice before taking daughter Melanie to the doctor's office so both can get flu shots. While administering the injection, Emma's doctor notices two large lumps under Emma's armpit. Although Emma is only in her 30s, the doctor orders a biopsy and discovers she has a malignancy.

To cheer her up, Patsy invites Emma to New York City for her first vacation without her children. However, after arriving, Emma feels out-of-place amongst Patsy's friends and returns home early to begin treatment for her illness. Her doctor breaks the news that the drugs she was taking did not have the desired effect, and that Emma will not survive her illness. Flap and Aurora remain by her bedside in the hospital for weeks. Although devastated and exhausted, Aurora is still very supportive and loving towards Emma. Garrett flies to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he surprises Aurora, who confesses her love for him. He issues his stock reply: "I love you, too, kid."

In a discussion in the hospital cafeteria, Aurora tells Flap bluntly that he does not have the energy for a job, chasing women, and managing a family, advising him to let her raise his and Emma's children in Houston. Patsy, who has no children of her own, wants to adopt Melanie, but Flap and Emma do not want their kids to be separated. Emma also doesn't want Janice to raise her children, so Flap, feeling like a failure as both a father and a husband, agrees that having them live with Aurora is best.

As Emma's time begins to run short, eldest son Tommy (Troy Bishop) shows open resentment toward his mother due to circumstances such as social class, fights between his parents, and Tommy's perception of feeling unloved. Emma reassures her two sons, and, after an altercation with Aurora, Tommy weeps in his grandmother's arms. Emma dies later that night.

Following the funeral, Emma's friends and family gather in Aurora's backyard for a memorial service. Garrett shows affection toward each of Emma's children and helps Tommy cope during the wake. The film closes on Aurora, sitting next to Melanie.

Cast (in end credits order)

  • Shirley MacLaine - Aurora Greenway
  • Debra Winger - Emma Greenway Horton
  • Jack Nicholson - Garrett Breedlove
  • Danny DeVito - Vernon Dahlart
  • Jeff Daniels - Flap Horton
  • John Lithgow - Sam Burns
  • Lisa Hart Caroll - Patsy Clark
  • Betty R. King - Rosie Dunlop
  • Huckleberry Fox - Ted "Teddy" Horton
  • Troy Bishop - Tom "Tommy" Horton
  • Shane Serwin - Younger Tom "Tommy" Horton
  • Megan Morris - Melanie Horton
  • Tara Yeakey - Baby Melanie Horton
  • Edward Johnson - Norman Bennett
  • Jennifer Josey - Young Emma Greenway
  • Kate Charleson - Janice
  • Tom Wees - Dr. Budge
  • Paul Menzel - Dr. Maise
  • F. William Parker - Doctor
  • Amanda Watkins - Meg
  • Buddy Gilbert - Dr. Ratcher
  • David Wohl - Phil
  • Shelley K. Nielsen - Nurse
  • Bette Croissant - Nurse
  • Charles Beall - Rudyard Greenway's employer
  • Lelise Folse (voiced dubbed by Mary Kay Place) - Doris
  • Sharisse Baker - Lee Anne
  • Judith A. Dickerson - Checkout girl
  • Devon O'Brien - Lizbeth
  • Dana Vance - Victoria
  • Alexandra O'Karma - Woman at party
  • Holly Beth Holmberg - T. J.
  • Lear Levin - Jack Stern
  • A. Brooks (voice) - Rudyard Greenway
  • Lanier Whilden - Patsy Clark's mother
  • Helen Stauffer - Flap Horton's secretary
  • Barbara Balik - Woman
  • Michelle Watkins - Woman
  • John C. Conger - Moving man
  • Sandra Newkirk - Mrs. Johnson
  • Elaine McGown - Elaine McGown

Box office

The film was commercially successful. On its opening weekend, it grossed $3.4 million ranking number two until its second weekend when it grossed $3.1 million ranking #1 at the box office. Three weekends later, it arrived number one again with $9,000,000 having wide release. For four weekends, it remained number one at the box office until slipping to number two on its tenth weekend. On the film's 11th weekend, it arrived number one (for the sixth and final time) grossing $3,000,000. For the last weekends of the film, it later dwindled downward.[2] The film grossed $108,423,489 in the United States.[3]

Critical reception

The film was generally well regarded by critics and maintains an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus, "A classic tearjerker, Terms of Endearment isn't shy about reaching for the heartstrings -- but is so well-acted and smartly scripted that it's almost impossible to resist."[4] Roger Ebert gave the film a four-out-of-four star rating, calling it "a wonderful film" and stating, "There isn't a thing that I would change, and I was exhilarated by the freedom it gives itself to move from the high comedy of Nicholson's best moments to the acting of Debra Winger in the closing scenes."[5] Gene Siskel, who gave the film a highly enthusiastic review, correctly predicted upon its release that it would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1983.

In an interview with Barbara Walters, Bette Davis said "At least Terms of Endearment was an authentic film about relationships, and I must say that Miss Shirley MacLaine gave an outstanding performance, but then she's always good."



The film won five Academy Awards[6] and four Golden Globes:[7]



A sequel, The Evening Star, in which Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson reprised their roles, was released in 1996 to much less critical or commercial acclaim.


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Box Office Mojo
  • Rotten Tomatoes

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