Terms of Endearment Celebrates 30 Years of Making Us Cry

I was only seven years old when Terms of Endearment was released in the theaters in November of 1983. I went to the film with my mother and I remember vividly connecting to the story in a way I never had with film. My mom had just decided to go to law school, so we were living in a basement apartment at my grandparents’ house. My own grandmother was not exactly a Shirley MacLaine type, but there were certainly parallels. What resonated was the idea of how complicated and messy a family could be, but how there was never any doubt that love was at the core.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Terms of Endearment. I find this number particularly beautiful as the span of the movie takes place over thirty years.

Roger Ebert’s review of the film upon release is a work of art. He says, “Terms of Endearment feels as much like life as any movie I can think of. At the same time, it’s a triumph of show business, with its high comic style, its flair for bittersweet melodrama, and its star turns for the actors. Maybe the best thing about this movie is the way it combines those two different kinds of filmmaking. This is a movie with bold emotional scenes and big laughs, and at the same time it’s so firmly in control of its tone that we believe we are seeing real people.”

I laugh so heartily when I watch this movie. I blush. I root for romance. I weep. I yell. I sob. And when I am gasping with sadness a small moment will happen in the film to tilt back the world again. It is life as we know and live it: messy and awful; beautiful and magical.

One of the most defining moments of the movie features Shirley MacLaine as Aurora Greenway fighting for her daughter Emma. Shirley demands that her daughter be given help and she demands in a voice that I never recognized until I became a health advocate for people in my family. Even now, when I find myself suspecting something unjust is happening, I feel as if I have Aurora Greenway super powers and have often remarked to someone in an icy voice, “Don’t make me go Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment on you.”

If you haven’t seen the film in a while it’s time for a revisit, but don’t do it alone. Modern technology has made movie watching so much more exciting. Have a virtual viewing party with your mom or sister or your dearest friends. Both Netflix and Amazon currently offer streaming Terms of Endearment.

A Visit With Terms of Endearment:

  • 30th Anniversary of Terms of Endearment 1 of 14

    Just thinking the title of the movie brings the theme song into my head.  Terms of Endearment was released in November of 1983 and I have probably seen it well over fifty times in my life. The movie shows a family every bit as messy as mine is, and I will always be thankful for the tears.


    Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson During Terms of Endearment 2 of 14

    When asked why she thought Terms of Endearment was so popular Shirley MacLaine replied, "Because everybody has a mother."  According to a 1984 People Magazine article (and decades of Hollywood rumors) Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine did not get along. At all. People shares, "the production frequently resembled a $10-million family feud." 


    Image Credit: Amazon

  • Shirley MacLaine Now 3 of 14

    Shirley MacLaine is currently making us chuckle as Martha Levinson on Downton Abbey. Later this year Shirley will join some of the cast of Downton Abbey for a PBS special featuring a "mix of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with creators and cast members, and video clips of favorite moments." Downton returns to US televisions on January 5th.


    Image Credit: PR Photos

  • Debra and Shirley During Terms of Endearment 4 of 14
    Terms of Endearment 30th Anniversary

    The battles on screen were tame compared to the battles off screen. Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine began feuding almost as soon as production of Terms of Endearment began. The battle turned into rivalry when the two stars ended up both being nominated for a best actress Academy Award. When Shirley accepted her gold statue she roared, "I deserve this!" 


    Image Credit:  Amazon

  • Debra Winger Now 5 of 14

    A few weeks ago Debra Winger was on Alec Baldwin's new late night talk show (oh yes, he has a late night talk show now) and she spoke about how she defines herself. Debra now considers herself an activist more than an actor.  She also spoke, in a roundabout way, about why she has given up filmmaking. I couldn't exactly follow her reasoning, but if you watch the clip perhaps it will make sense to you. 


    Image Credit: PR Photos

  • Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine During Terms of Endearment 6 of 14

    Just before Terms of Endearment finished filming, the critically acclaimed film, The Right Stuff, was released. The Right Stuff was an incredibly inspiring real life story of the Mercury astronauts. Jack Nicholson, who had been cast as astronaut Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, portrayed a more down to earth character. Jack opted to wait to see the other astronaut film until after he had filmed his scenes. "I decided I didn't want to see it. I thought I'd rather just take a shot that I'd get something truthful about the astronauts on the flip side of the coin. From what I've read about them, I don't think this is really outlandish or impossible behavior for a former astronaut.'' 


    Image Credit: Amazon

  • Jack Nicholson Now 7 of 14

    Jack Nicholson has been keeping a pretty low profile these days. Most of the news that surfaces about him comes in the form of hints from Hollywood tell alls. There's the Cher story, the Meryl story ... but if you just want to see some iconic cool moments of Jack's life you have to look at these images of him taken during the 60's.


    Image Credit: PR Photos

  • Debra Winger and Jeff Daniels During Terms of Endearment 8 of 14

    Jeff Daniels played Flap Horton. That is quite possibly the best character name of a boyfriend/ husband in a film about a shaky mother/daughter relationship.  I still cringe thinking about all of the mistakes Flap made and all the ways he let down Debra Winger's Emma. However it is the final scenes of the film that stand out the most with Flap, when he realizes what his life has become. It's an amazing character arc.


    Image Credit: Amazon

  • Jeff Daniels Now 9 of 14

    Jeff Daniels in Terms of Endearment was not really attractive (to me), but Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in HBO's The Newsroom? VERY much attractive. At the end of the year Jeff will take to the stage in Michigan to perform "Onstage & Unplugged." This is a concert that is being billed as an, "arsenal of songs that are alternately humorous and poignant." 


    Image Credit: PR Photos

  • Debra and John Lithgow During Terms of Endearment 10 of 14

    John Lithgow received his second Academy Award nomination for his performance in Terms of Endearment. In an early review of the film, the New York Times was earnest to praise John for his portrayal of a "bashful banker." In their review they gush, "[John] becomes Emma's lover after encountering her in the supermarket. Mr. Lithgow plays this entire episode clutching a canned ham in his left arm, yet he manages to make this touch seem sweet rather than sardonic."


    Image Credit: Amazon

  • John Lithgow Now 11 of 14

    John continues to be praised for his wide range of brilliantly played roles. He is also a celebrated children's book author and just recently published Never Play Music Right Next To The Zoo. Last week John was on NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me and he amused the audience with some anecdotes about filming Terms of Endearment. "When I showed up in Lincoln, Nebraska, to play that part, that was the most intense déjà vu experience. I really felt like I was coming home. I know Ohioans don't regard Cornhuskers as their brothers and sisters, but that was the closest I've come to really playing a Buckeye."


    Image Credit: PR Photos

  • Debra Winger, Jeff Daniels, and kids During Terms of Endearment 12 of 14

    One of the reasons why the film clicked with me was the children. These kids make Aurora a grandmother and you can see Shirley MacLaine cringe at not only the term, but the very idea of the word. I also grew up with a grandmother who was not to be called "grandmother" and until I saw this film I had no idea other such women existed. 


    Image Credit: Amazon

  • Huckleberry Fox: Then and Now 13 of 14

    Oh Huckleberry's tears! The actor who played Teddy Horton grew up and studied molecular biology at New York University, and then went on to grad school at Cornell. According to On Earth magazine, where he has some articles published, Huckleberry "attended graduate school at Cornell to study animal science, nutrition, and agroecology."  He's also pretty chatty on YouTube these days. 


    Image Credit: Youtube, Youtube

  • Troy Bishop: Then and Now 14 of 14

    Troy Bishop, who played Tommy Horton, continued to dabble in Hollywood after Terms of Endearment. According to his IMDB page he is a graduate of Stanford University and a licensed private pilot.


    Image Credit: Youtube, IMDB

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