Dec 15

“Terms of Endearment”: Mom-Daughter Drama

It just so happens that Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of this year’s highly popular indie movie Lady Bird, recently revealed that one of her favorite movies is Terms of Endearment (1983), which, like Lady Bird, features a conflictual but loving mother-daughter relationship.

Interestingly, “Wesley Morris noted recently in the New York Times that over the last 34 years, only two best-picture Oscar winners (‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Chicago’) featured two or more major female characters who actually talked to each other” (Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune).

The film was based on Larry McMurtry‘s novel, also titled Terms of Endearment, which came out in 1975 and is briefly summarized on Amazon: “Aurora is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors. Widowed and overprotective of her daughter, Aurora adapts at her own pace until life sends two enormous challenges her way: Emma’s hasty marriage and subsequent battle with cancer.”

Vincent Canby, New York Times, describes the gist of Aurora and Emma’s connection in the movie adaptation:

The film is the story of a possibly smothering mother-daughter relationship that is immediately defined in the film’s very first scene: A young Aurora Greenway ([Shirley] MacLaine) insists on waking her infant daughter, Emma (later to be played by the equally incandescent Debra Winger), to make sure the baby hasn’t succumbed to crib death, while the voice of her off-screen husband tells her, in polite terms, to lay off the kid. Aurora’s problem throughout ‘Terms of Endearment’ is that she can’t.

Watch the trailer below:

In a nutshell, over the course of 25 years a lot of interesting things happen. Emma marries Flap (Jeff Daniels), whom Aurora dislikes, and has a few kids. Flap is unfaithful. And while Aurora has a push-pull romance with Jack Nicholson‘s character, Emma fields interest from John Lithgow‘s. As in the book, Emma eventually is faced with cancer, an experience that, needless to say, intensifies the dynamics between her and her mom.

Just last May Joe McGovern, ew.com, wrote the following accolades: “The film won five Oscars including Best Picture, and holds up miraculously today as perhaps the very best huge-hearted Hollywood weepie of its era. Though Terms is often hilariously funny — in large degree thanks to the comic spontaneity of Winger’s performance — it’s the soulfulness and poetry of the movie’s final act which gives it unmistakable classic status.”

And back in the day, Roger Ebert (rogerebert.com) had praised the film’s “ability to find the balance between the funny and the sad, between moments of deep truth and other moments of high ridiculousness.”

Back to the present: According to several reports earlier this year, producer/director Lee Daniels said he was in the process of planning a remake that will star Oprah Winfrey in the Aurora (or otherwise named) role. Stephen Galloway, Hollywood Reporter, noted it would take place “in the ’80s and include a storyline about black men who brought HIV/AIDS to their female partners.”

Daniels apparently stated, “I’ve got to tell stories that are important to me, and so many African-American women died. I want to make Flap…gay and infect the Debra Winger character. And then we explore the ’80s in a different way.”

As of this writing, however, not only has Oprah denied knowledge of such a development, but Daniels has offered no further updates.

Mar 29

“Rachel Getting Married”: Rehab Interrupted, Emotional Chaos

The contemporary slice-of-life film Rachel Getting Married (2008), directed by Jonathan Demme, features Kym (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who’s tried substance abuse rehab a number of times and hasn’t yet succeeded. In fact, she’s currently on a weekend leave from her most recent rehab—in order to attend her sister’s wedding. Cue plenty of opportunities for emotionally loaded dysfunctional-type interactions.

Here’s the trailer to get you started:

Having seen and liked the movie, I appreciated reading the following Rachel Getting Married review of Amy Biancolli‘s (Houston Chronicle) so much that I have to quote a significant chunk of it. For starters: “It hurts to watch Rachel Getting Married. It hurts because it captures, better than any film of recent vintage, the wild emotional undulations of life in a dysfunctional family.”

Why does it hurt? “It hurts because addicts are inevitably selfish, and movies about them are inevitably claustrophobic. It hurts because Anne Hathaway is rawer, bluer, meaner, truer, more broken than you’ve ever seen her — than you’ve ever seen just about anyone portraying a lost soul in recovery.”

Furthermore:

It hurts because Bill Irwin, the actor playing her father, seems to split down the middle as we watch. It hurts because Rosemarie DeWitt, as the Rachel getting married, conveys without an ounce of malice the outrage and exhaustion of loving someone who’s so far off from normal. And it hurts because our joy at seeing the warm, familiar face of Debra Winger turns to shock when her calibrated performance — as a detached mater familias — abruptly kicks into hellfire-spitting fury.

There’s a lot of other interesting stuff going on as well, including an underlying theme of a tragic family loss—for which Kym is held responsible.

And lots lots more is packed into the few days represented in this film. Wesley MorrisBoston Globe: “Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet have given us an epic rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception that’s half-cabaret, half group-therapy session, and completely multiracial, multicultural, and multisensory.”

This is one of those quirkier films that the critics loved and the non-critics not so much. It seems that having to sit through loads of family dysfunction is an undesirable for many—imagine that—especially if they already have that at home.

But I feel compelled to let another critic have the last word on this one. Michael Dequina, TheMovieReport.com: “The messiness that goes with genuinely flawed and complex people is what makes the film ring so true and cut so deep.”