Terms of Endearment: A Lousy Portrayal of an Overbearing Parent

Intro by Brandon

Moving emotional dramas are a big deal in the film world. When was the last time you saw a lighthearted comedy or an exciting superhero film win the Oscar for Best Picture? (That’s a trick question—that never happens.) The films that are regarded as masterpieces almost always fall into this genre, and, while comedies and action movies are often described as “funny” or “fun,” words like “amazing” are usually reserved for dramatic films.

Today, we are looking at the 1983 mother-daughter drama, Terms of Endearment. Now, we did not pick this film. When we started this podcast to talk about movies and mental health, Maria and I decided to look not only at our own film choices, but also the Best Picture winners for each year, so we could see what pop culture was saying about mental health, for good and for bad. That’s how we arrived at today’s film.

Some reviewers have described this film as “a classic tearjerker.” I describe this movie as “hot garbage.” I didn’t like it; in fact, I hated it. I didn’t think it was amazing, or funny, or fun. It really tries to be a moving emotional drama, but I don’t think it quite got there. While Maria’s reaction wasn’t quite as strong as mine, I don’t think this is on her list of favorites either.

That said, this film made an impact. Despite my feelings toward it, people like this film. When people are paying attention to a film, it’s important to look at what it has to say.

Does this film have much to say about mental health? Well, I think it actually does, but it doesn’t intend to. The troubled mother-daughter relationship is central to this film, and there are some mental health topics that go along with that. What are those issues? Does this film get it right? And, what I’m sure you’re all dying to find out, is this movie worse than Shakespeare in Love? Those are all topics we discuss in this episode.

So get ready for us to talk about the problems with the film’s dramatic elements, the psychology of growing up with an overbearing, controlling parent, and how the hell Jeff Daniels’ character got the nickname “Flap” in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health!

Episode Summary

Overall Thoughts: While Maria was OK with it, Brandon thinks this movie SUCKS

BRANDON SUMS IT UP: I did not like this film. It just seems so emotionally manipulative and melodramatic that I kind of felt like it was trying to take advantage of me, and so by the time it got to the end, I was just annoyed with the whole film. I didn’t get sad at all.

Surprise: The Right Stuff was indeed a film about NASA’s Space Program, not the Apollo Program or “that moon thing.”

Which is better?
Shakespeare in LoveTerms of Endearment
Which is worse?
Shakespeare in LoveTerms of Endearment

This movie’s Oscar competition was against other films that aren’t really known (except Maria knows about The Right Stuff, because she is the right stuff, if you know what I mean).

Like: Quirky characters

M: The acting was great; Shirley MacLaine is funny to me; epic story that spans a long time; the characters had weird personalities, so it intrigued me; parts resonated with me

B: Debra Winger seemed to have an interesting persona and performance; this section is intentionally left blank

Dislike: Cliche, emotionally manipulative, and poor storytelling

M: Exactly the same as fucking Steel Magnolias; too cliche; so dated—maybe if I saw this movie a while ago (early 90s) or when it first came out, I would be super into it; so many things unexplained—like WTF with Aurora’s devotion club?

B: Terms of Endearment is a terrible movie. This movie is hot garbage; emotionally manipulative; movie cancer is bullshit; Flap?; most of the plot happens off screen; Aurora behavior is not portrayed as negative

Mental Health: Real controlling mothers cause lasting psychological damage

M: Thought there would eventually be a realization that Aurora’s behavior is unacceptable, but that never came; made me think about nature vs. nurture; the movie seemed off and missed the mark

B: Aurora is overbearing and controlling, and they portray this without consequence, so the movie doesn’t really get mental health right at all, and they could have easily addressed these issues


M: No sadness, Brandon? She’s on her deathbed, and nothing from your cold, black heart?

M: I guess you don’t win an Academy Award off of making sense.

M: I was waiting for the shoe to drop, like something where we would realize that Aurora is this horrible mom. Some kind of realization, or something. Emma turns out completely different than you would expect with Aurora as a mother…One thing I thought of was the psychological debate with nature vs nurture…We see these things, we see [Emma’s] environment, we see the nature, and we see the nurture—it just seems strange.

B: The overbearing mother in this film is just like the portrayal of cancer—it kind of creates drama, but it chickens out when it comes to showing the ugly side of what it does.

B: Some of the reviews praise this film for being so realistic, but I think if anyone grew up with a mother that’s truly controlling, this film is not realistic. It seems more like an adult fairytale.

B: This film is a great example of Hollywood getting mental health wrong.

Up Next…

Next episode, we will be reviewing the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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