Terms of Endearment is a 1983 American comedy-drama film adapted from Larry McMurtry's 1975 novel, 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 eleven Academy Award nominations and won five. Brooks won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium 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).
Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma Greenway-Horton (Debra Winger) are mother and daughter searching for love. Beginning with Emma's marriage, Aurora reveals how difficult and caring she can be. The film centers around several years as they both find their reasons for going on living and finding joy. Aurora finds Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), the retired astronaut living next door. The relationship between Emma and Aurora comes full circle when Emma is diagnosed with cancer that soon becomes terminal. At the film's end, each shows different ways of expressing love.
Brooks wrote the supporting role of Garrett Breedlove for Burt Reynolds, who turned down the role because of a verbal commitment he had made to appear in Stroker Ace. "There are no awards in Hollywood for being an idiot," Reynolds later said of the decision.
The exterior shots of Aurora's home were filmed at 3060 Locke Lane, Houston, Texas. Larry McMurtry, writer of the novel on which the screenplay was based, had received his M.A. at Rice University, a mere three miles from the home.
The exterior shots of locations intended to be in Des Moines, Iowa, Kearney, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska, were all filmed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Many scenes were filmed on or near the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During filming in Lincoln, Debra Winger met the then-governor of Nebraska, Bob Kerrey, and wound up dating him for two years.
MacLaine and Winger did not get along with each other during production. MacLaine confirmed in an interview that "it was a very tough shoot...Chaotic...(Jim) likes working with tension on the set."
On working with Nicholson, MacLaine said "working with Jack Nicholson was crazy" but that his spontaneity may have contributed to her performance. She also said, "We're like old smoothies working together. You know the old smoothies they used to show whenever you went to the Ice Follies. They would have this elderly man and woman--who at that time were 40--and they had a little bit too much weight around the waist and were moving a little slower. But they danced so elegantly and so in synch with each other that the audience just laid back and sort of sighed. That's the way it is working with Jack. We both know what the other is going to do. And we don't socialize or anything. It's an amazing chemistry--a wonderful, wonderful feeling." MacLaine confirmed in an interview with USA Today that Nicholson improvised when he put his hand down her dress in the beach scene.
Terms of Endearment 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. The film grossed $108,423,489 in the United States.
The film was generally well regarded by critics and maintains an 88% 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." 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." 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 his movie guide, Leonard Maltin awarded the film a rare four-star rating, calling it a "Wonderful mix of humor and heartache" and concluded the film was "Consistently offbeat and unpredictable, with exceptional performances by all three stars."
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