By Brad Laidman | September 5, 2001

Garret Breedlove: You need a lot of drinks.
Aurora Greenway: To break the ice?
Garret Breedlove: To kill the bug you have up your a*s!
Somewhere along the way a consensus seems to have dubbed Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space with the title “worst movie of all time”, but is it? Certainly, it may be the least technically proficient movie, the poorest conceived movie, even the most incompetently executed, but is it really the worst movie of all time? It can’t be. People love going to see that movie so much they even went to see Tim Burton’s version of Ed Wood Behind the Music. Plan 9 From Outer Space has inspired more joy to the world than the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch combined. The world’s worst movie should be the one that was so painful to watch that it eventually so sapped the energy from your body that you couldn’t even muster the strength to leave the theater. It’s the 2-4 hours of your life that you would give anything not to have wasted. It’s the subject of your nightmares. The one experience that forever after blackened your rosy outlook on life.
For me that movie is “Terms of Endearment.” I left my car’s lights on once during ET: The Extraterrestrial and had to call my father at 12:30 in the morning to drive 45 minutes into the snows of an Ohioan winter to give me a jump start. That to me was a better experience than sitting through all two hours and twelve minutes of this mind numbingly awful mother-daughter gabfest.
Sure it won lots of Oscars. It won best picture. I don’t care. I still truly believe I would rather see Yentl three times in a row than venture anywhere near to another showing of Terms of Endearment. Terms of Endearment is so bad that Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for best supporting actor, deserved the award, is generally very entertaining here as essentially Jack Nicholson if he were an astronaut (“There are 106 astronauts in the whole f*****g world and I’m one of them!”), and yet the movie still made me want to gouge both of my eyes out with an icepick. So please spare me how brilliant you think Taxi and Broadcast News were, because James L. Brooks needs to be punished for this movie. If I had been in a Cambodian Prison camp for twenty years and they offered me either brutal torture or another chance to see this movie … well you get the idea.
“Terms of Endearment” is a series of glances into the soap opera life of Shirley MacLaine’s infinitely annoying widow, Aurora Greenway. Every couple of years we get to see that she is still an uptight bitch. Let me set the world straight on this. If you play a character who is supposed to be irritating really well, it is not an example of exceptional acting, it is merely irritating! Shirley didn’t deserve to be named best actress for this she needed to be slapped once for every life she has ever claimed to have lived.
Debra Winger is her daughter Emma. She digs show tunes. She gets stoned listening to Ethel Merman. Shirley is the most overprotective, controlling, micro managing harpy of a mother in the annals of cinema, literature, and comic books. Her glare could kill Nazis like the Ark of the Covenant. George S. Patton would find her stiff. She should be out hunting down terminators not having garden parties.
Aurora like to collect goofy suitors, but never puts out to any of them. She apparently just likes having people around to worship her. Danny Devito is one of them, but since Jack is in the movie he acts as retarded as he did when he played Martini in One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest. Where oh where is Louis DePalma when this movie seems to meander its way into its 12th hour?
The night before Emma’s wedding mom tells her the following. “If you marry Flap Horton tomorrow, it will be a mistake of such gigantic proportions it will ruin your life and make wretched your destiny.” Mom skips the wedding, but for some reason she starts calling her daughter daily every fifteen minutes between 7AM and 11PM. When the line is busy she has the operator cut in as if it were an emergency when basically it’s all about how one of her prized house plants has died or something similarly banal.
To her credit she is right about Flap (Jeff Daniels), but come on his name is Flap. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know not to marry a guy named Flap. Flap is a big dull boring English professor type who moves Emma to Iowa, keeps her popping out kids and doesn’t make any money. He’s eventually so boring and unavailable that Emma starts sleeping with the only guy in town less interesting than Flap. John Lithgow’s Iowa banker Sam Burns is so lame he practically even has a doctor’s note of permission to cheat on his frigid wife.
Every time Emma is about to pop out another kid Aurora gets pissed off. At one point she suggests a cheap illegal abortion. Her grandson calls her Mrs. Greenway. Isn’t that special?
To Emma’s credit, she is a pretty bad Mom herself. You would be a bad Mom too if you had three whiny kids, a husband named Flap and had to live in Iowa. Believe me I get it. I just don’t understand why I should have to watch it.
For a while Shirley looks as if she is about to loosen up. Screwing Jack Nicholson will do that for you. Of course, the second she admits she is crazy about him, party boy Jack dumps her. This doesn’t do much for anyone’s enjoyment of the movie. I’d compare it to Bambi’s mom dying. It’s a real drag to see him go. Oddly enough this movie reminds me a lot of the film Giant. It’s a too long movie about the oh so long lives of a boring Texas family. If you took Terms of Endearment without the Jack Nicholson scenes and spliced it together with Giant minus the James Dean sequences, I’m pretty sure that you would have four hours of footage that could easily kill household pests and other assorted vermin.
Eventually it looks like Emma is about to leave Flap and run back to Mom, which you know is what Shirley always wanted. Mom is all about controlling every aspect of her daughter’s life, which is perfect because Emma is just about dying for Mom’s approval. So much so in fact that she gets a couple of malignant tumors and starts to expire oh so slowly to the sound of the awful Vangelis light score. Wow what a drag. If Jack was going to die, I could maybe shed a few tears, but frankly I wouldn’t be too upset if Shirley, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow and all three grouchy unloved kids sprouted a couple of Cancerous tumors. It’s a lot like Titanic if the whole boat was filled with hundreds of Billy Zanes.
At least in Old Yeller things move swiftly. We see some foam in the old boy’s mouth and it’s off to get the shotgun. Here they have to march in the childhood friend, the kids, the unfaithful husband. Nurses get yelled at. Speeches are made. Tears are shed. Personally, I’m about as sad to see her drop off as the munchkins were when that house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East.
Did Debra Winger didn’t really get Cancer or did Shirley MacLaine merely hound her to death with her numerous and endlessly painful array of interfering shrieking phone calls? As the movie ends Aurora holds her grand daughter and thinks. Ah … another young girl for me to make miserable. I think that movie was called the Evening Star but to tell you the truth I’d sooner watch Barbara Bush do a seductive strip tease. There’s no doubt in my mind that there is more art to be found in a week’s worth of General Hospital re-runs.

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  1. Drake says:

    wow that’s a brutal review, but very funny. The score is very dated and crappy and I agree with your individual points but I don’t think it’s a bad film. You’re right — the characters aren’t all that likable but I still found myself sucked into their tedious lives, maybe because it was believable. Movies can be escapism but Jim Brooks aims for realism even if that means dreariness (in fact several scenes were deliberately shot in dreary weather). I’m guessing you hated “Ordinary People” too, which I consider to be an even whinier film. I also agree that Jack Nicholson brought some much needed edge to the story. When I saw John Lithgow show up I hoped he’d add something fun but alas his role was small and underwritten.

    Definitely not Oscar caliber material but it works. I think maybe it’s the genre you dislike?

  2. WHATEVER says:


  3. Ian Ian Ian says:

    Best review ever.

    My wife tricked me into watching this movie years ago. I thought it would never end. She kept telling me how many awards it won. Clearly, someone paid someone off for the Oscar votes. Every character is unlike able and boring. The primary element moving movie forward is poor problem solving skills. Just a miserable experience.

    I agree. Worst movie of all time.

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