04 February 2009

64. Terms of Endearment



I couldn't get into this one.

There's something about 80's films that makes them age poorly. They become horribly dated in an unpleasant way. They reek of Reagan.

In terms of the writing, I have some misgivings. I think one of the biggest problems is that the film spans a long stretch of time -- about 30 years, I'd guess -- and that span of time is inelegantly handled. We start with Winger as a baby, which is fine, and then we go right into her father dying, then right into her getting married. Minutes after that, we're about 5 years later and Winger and her husband are moving to Iowa. We know this is years later because in the previous scene, she's pregnant; now, she's got a kid. And no explanation is giving, and we're left to piece it together. That means we as audience actually sit there wondering "is that their kid?" These kinds of things take us out of the movie.

Another example is MacLaine and Nicholson. He's a rogue, a charmer, a skirt-chaser. He insults her while asking her out -- to the White House, no less. She says no. Several scenes later, after a bad birthday dinner with her various admirers, she goes back over to his house to feel young again and asks him if the date is still on. He's confused. She clears it up: "a few years ago you asked if I'd like to go have lunch with you." That's how we know it is years later. Again, inelegant.

Probably the biggest problem in relation to this time span is how it affects the relationship between MacClaine and Winger. MacClaine is a self-centered, narcissistic, lonely woman at the beginning of the film, and her daughter has a rare joie de vivre that MacClaine seems to try to squash at all points. By the end of the film, they have clearly reconciled and have come to appreciate each other -- we see them on the phone talking about their love lives, MacClaine offers to take the kids -- but I never got a sense of when or how they came to appreciate each other. The scenes skip from one to another and all of a sudden they are friends. I don't need some big emotional breakdown, but I need something more than what we are given to see how they meet in the middle with their largely differing personalities.

I'm sure this film is lauded often because it changes tone often. However, save for Nicholson's scenes, I never thought of it as a particularly funny film. There are some fine dramatic scenes -- Winger in the supermarket, for example; Winger confronting her husband on the chair about his adultery -- but the two tones don't come together as well as I think was intended.

Now, it terms of content, I didn't like MacClaine, and I had problems with the adultery. MacClaine comes off as a really bad parent at the beginning, and I never got a sense of how she overcame that, both in the story sense as well as to us as the audience. I never felt for her, never empathized with any plight she was in. Her character arc was supposed to be her going from being cold to warm, but I never bought it. And in terms of the adultery, I really disliked Daniels' character for cheating on his wife, who we can agree is a nice woman who just wanted to do right by her man and make their marriage work. But all that goodwill goes out the window when she herself enters into an affair -- and does so with a weepy, wussy banker. On top of that, when her husband admits his mistakes in full on her deathbed, she refuses to do the same. Unforgivable.

Beyond the writing, I had other problems with the film. One, the music was awful. The maudlin piano and flute score is so overblown, and it does little to link the disparate scenes together. Two, Debra Winger is technically a good actress, but I personally don't like her -- her voice and face are unpleasant to me, and she tries to toe lines that I'm not sure she's able to. For example, I found her confrontation scenes lacking in life or passion: when she confronts her husband's mistress I felt the drama of the scene, but not her embodiment of that drama. In other words, she was able to be quirky and free-spirited, but she couldn't do the heavy lifting of the drama. Same goes for her death-bed scene with her kid.

All of this adds up to the fact that I felt nothing watching this movie. I know this is a notorious "weeper", but when Winger dies at the end, I felt nothing. Nicholson walks away with the kid, and the blue-background credits pop up (see what I mean about the 80's dating things?), and all I could do is shrug.

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