Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment (1983)

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Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine won her oscar for playing Aurora Greenway in James L. Brooks’ best picture winner Terms of Endearment. This is her fifth acting nomination and I don’t think her win is considered a surprise – she’s a veteran actress who is widely respected and I’m pretty sure she was considered overdue. The fact that she is in the best picture is also to her advantage, I guess.

Terms of Endearment is a good movie, but I’m not that sure whether it is deserving of its best picture Oscar. I am also not entirely sure if James L. Brooks deserved his directing award. I can’t really judge cause I haven’t seen the competition, though I can say I prefer this film slightly more than Tender Mercies. Jack Nicholson won his Oscar for, well, playing himself. I personally felt his character was the weak link of the story (such contrived writing urgh) and I also felt like Nicholson wasn’t really putting that much effort in his performance either. I’d rather he had won for his role in Reds 2 years earlier.

Out of the 2 leading ladies, MacLaine has the lighter storyline and, I suspect, lesser screentime. That being said, I always found her the more interesting character as compared to Winger’s Emma. Aurora is one wacky and eccentric lady who is full of insecurities and neurotic tics, but MacLaine is always truthful in her portrayal, making Aurora entertaining and sympathetic at the same time. She’s scenery chewing a lot here (as she always does) but it just works – I mean, when she screams “GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!!” at the Nurses it could have failed so badly but MacLaine nailed it, making it one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

Beneath all the weirdness of the character, MacLaine allows us to see a vulnerable side of Aurora, mainly through her love for her daughter Emma. Despite her abrasive and straightforward personality, she deeply cares for Emma and I love the scenes where she advises her, and when they share their troubles together. MacLaine is so motherly here in her nagging and chiding, and the excellent chemistry between the 2 actresses is also one of the best aspects of the film.

The Nicolson scenes are my least favourite parts of the film, but I’d admit that Nicolson and MacLaine have great chemistry. I also like how she used the opportunity to create an arc for Aurora, transforming her from a neurotic, insecure widow to a woman who learns to fall in love again, all while learning to be a new grandmother at the same time.

She doesn’t have the melodramatic storyline like Winger but MacLaine’s portrayal of Aurora is colourful, entertaining and moving, making her the best aspect of the film. 4.5/5.

Debra Winger

Although I prefer MacLaine’s performance because of how unique it is, I think Winger holds her own as Aurora’s free spirited, cheerful daughter who is forced to grow up due to her rocky marriage. Winger excels in portraying Emma’s transformation from an immature and naive young lady to a hardened Mother struggling to deal with her cheating husband and troubled children.

Emma is a highly sympathetic character that is typically played for tears, especially since she gets the cancer storyline. I liked how Winger gives her a spunky edge to flavour things up a little, and some of her wisecracks are pretty funny.

Her farewell scene is also fantastically played and I loved how she managed to convey so much emotions within a few seconds without saying a word. But, as mentioned earlier, I have always felt that the best parts of the performance come from her excellent chemistry with MacLaine – it is truly heartwarming to see the 2 women confide in each other during their ups and downs.

Somehow I was less interested in Emma than Aurora – she’s certainly very sympathetic, especially when watching her deal with her struggling marriage and illness. But at the same time, I felt like Aurora had a bit more mystery to her, especially when one tries to understand her eccentricity and insecurities beneath that loud and colourful facade. Emma’s storyline is a bit more straightforward, but I think Winger does a great job nonetheless. 4.5/5.

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