Terms of Endearment | Chicago Reader

Terms of Endearment

Someone finally got smart and made the inverse of the father-son reconciliation melodramas: a mother-daughter revenge film (1983). Widowed Houston housewife Shirley MacLaine dominates her implausibly well adjusted, extroverted daughter, Debra Winger; the revenge—unstated and indirect, as popular filmmaking warrants—consists of the daughter presiding over the mother's sexual initiation (via over-the-hill astronaut Jack Nicholson) and a tear-jerking ending that would make Freud cringe. Writer-director James L. Brooks was one of the architects of the MTM sitcom style, and he has television in his soul: his people are incredibly tiny (most are defined by a single stroke of obsessive behavior), and he chokes out his narrative in ten-minute chunks, separated by aching lacunae. The dual-track plot, with constant cutting between mother and daughter, seems less an attempt to establish meaningful parallels between the two stories than the nervous twitches of a compulsive channel changer. With John Lithgow. 132 min.

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