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 mother-daughter 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.

Dec 01

“The Homesman”: Mental Health Issues in the Old West

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones are getting kudos for their roles in the new female-centric Western called The Homesman, directed and co-written by Jones. The film, adapted from a 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, is also getting some decent reviews.

The official description of the film: “When three women living on the edge of the American frontier are driven mad by harsh pioneer life, the task of saving them falls to the pious, independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). Transporting the women by covered wagon to Iowa, she soon realizes just how daunting the journey will be, and employs a low-life drifter, George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), to join her. The unlikely pair and the three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) head east, where a waiting minister and his wife (Meryl Streep) have offered to take the women in. But the group first must traverse the harsh Nebraska Territories marked by stark beauty, psychological peril and constant threat.”

Other people met along the way include “an opportunistic cowboy (Tim Blake Nelson)…and an unctuous innkeeper (James Spader), unrealistically holding out for a better class of clientele than one usually finds on the lone prairie” (Pete Vonder Haar, Village Voice).

You can view the trailer below:

The Mental Health Issues

Peter Debruge, Variety, comments on attitudes toward mental health issues back then and now:

‘People like to talk about death and taxes, but when it comes to crazy, they stay hushed up,’ notes a townsperson in the hardscrabble Nebraska Territories where the seemingly linear but surprisingly unpredictable story begins. That amateur philosopher’s observation is as true today as it might have been in 1854, which means instead of rehashing the same stale Old West stories that have all but exhausted the genre, ‘The Homesman’…has the unique advantage of exploring a relatively overlooked chapter of America’s past.

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The three demented women include a catatonic, doll-clutching 19-year-old (Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer) banished by her husband after losing her baby; a violent schizophrenic (Miranda Otto) who threw her newborn infant down the hole of an outhouse; and a hysterical immigrant (Sonja Richter) who lost her mother in the snow and now spends her days screaming for an exorcism from the devil.”

Selected Reviews

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Few will regret having seen ‘The Homesman,’ and yet it’s not exactly an enjoyable experience. The film occupies that peculiar space that many of us would prefer to believe doesn’t exist, a movie that’s worthy but often inert, by turns enriching and enervating: a good boring movie.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “‘The Homesman’ is both a captivating western and a meticulous, devastating feminist critique of the genre.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “A wrenching, relentless and anti-heroic western that stands among the year’s most powerful American films. Not everyone will like ‘The Homesman,’ but if you see it you won’t soon forget it.”

Oct 14

“Love Is Strange”: Long-Term Gay Couple Face Obstacles

[The] ironic title refers to all tough relationships, including the one that the characters have with New York City. Joe McGovern, ew.com, about Love Is Strange

Love Is Strange, directed by Ira Sachs and starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, tells an unusual story and does so in a way that’s earning many accolades from critics and other viewers, including me.

The plot according to Time Out:

Chatty painter Ben (Lithgow) and his music-teacher partner of nearly four decades, George (Molina), tie the knot in an idyllic, understated ceremony…George’s Catholic academy is forced to fire him and, only weeks after celebrating, the couple find themselves cash poor, unable to maintain a mortgage and out of their elegant apartment. ‘Are you guys getting divorced already?’ jokes the assembled clan when they break the news and ask for temporary shelter. Ben goes to his nephew’s family (and a teen’s bunk bed) while George crashes on the couch of a younger gay cop’s boisterous party pad.

The trailer:

BEN AND GEORGE

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter: “Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zachariasget the familiar humor and half-evoked memories that are so typical of long-term relationships exactly right, and a short scene in a historic gay bar is not only funny and real but also casually reveals some of the core values that have kept this couple going for all these years.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “More important than the challenges of living with others is the enormous difficulty of trying to live apart, however temporary the arrangement. In depicting that struggle — illustrated through lovesick evenings spent alone and unapologetically affectionate reunions — ‘Love Is Strange’ poignantly makes the case for the validity of Ben and George’s relationship.”

SOME OF THE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Although the couple’s friends and family are far from homophobic, living in such close quarters certainly strains their tolerance of one another. As Ben confides to George by phone one evening, ‘Sometimes when you live with people, you know them better than you care to.'”

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out: “…(I)t’s sullen child actor Charlie Tahan who nearly steals the picture in a quietly devastating climax, a private breakdown that suggests Ben and George may have affected everyone more deeply than they know.”

SELECTED REVIEWS

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…’Love Is Strange’ is a blend of gentle comedy and romantic tragedy, a subtly woven multigenerational tapestry about love and sorrow, the families we’re born with and the ones we make for ourselves, the things that pass away forever and the things that endure and are passed along. There’s nothing particularly gay or straight about those questions, which I suppose is the point.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “Much has been written about these two actors’ physical comfort with one another, as if to express surprise that two straight men would be able to so convincingly play two highly emo gay guys in love. But Lithgow and Molina play Ben and George with such depth, tenderness, and history that their affection for one another’s bodies (there’s no sex, but loads of snuggling) seems like a natural extension of their pleasure in being together.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “‘Love Is Strange’ turns out to be a subtle, sidelong coming-of-age and letting-go-of-age story, a lyrical ode to longing and passion that were there all along, had we only noticed. Attention is duly paid in this tender and touching film; the strangest thing about ‘Love Is Strange’ is how completely un-strange it is, from its familiar family dynamics to its exquisite honesty and compassion.”