Best Picture winner, MacLaine plays an overbearing mother who can't seem to stop criticizing her daughter's life choices until some very dramatic events force her to re-evaluate her world view.
Wow, I just re-read my post from when I watched this nearly 5 years ago, and I guess I really did not like this movie the first time I watched it. I think I liked it better this time, although I still found the beginning rather obnoxious, particularly Shirley MacLaine's character. But just because I could hardly stand her character doesn't mean I didn't thoroughly enjoy her performance. MacLaine truly, completely embraces her character, with all her flaws, and makes everything she does totally believable. Very often she's completely unreasonable, but she's so self-assured that you can't help believing that she actually thinks she's acting for the best. She and Debra Winger have remarkable chemistry, and you never doubt that they're actually mother and daughter. She has really weird chemistry with Jack Nicholson, making their relationship rather uncomfortable, but that's kind of the way it's supposed to be, so even that works.
During the course of the movie, MacLaine's character has a couple of major turning points that completely change her life, so the audience's view of her changes a lot by the end. Yet the way she reacts to everything is always consistent with our first impressions of her. Throughout the whole film, we know that she loves her daughter more than anything, but has essentially no idea how to express that love in a way that doesn't drive her daughter totally crazy. Their relationship does evolve somewhat, but that aspect remains constant, and MacLaine does a tremendous job of conveying that. I can't imagine anyone playing this role as well as she does. Her character is one of my least favorites that an actress won this award for, and this movie is certainly not one of my favorite movies, but this is definitely one of the better Best Actress winning performances. Not anywhere near as incredible as the previous year's winner, but that isn't saying much.
Interestingly, Debra Winger was also nominated for Best Actress for this movie. It seems like Winger is in more of the movie than MacLaine is, but I understand why MacLaine's was still considered a leading role, since she's certainly a driving force throughout the story. Winger also does a very good job, but I think MacLaine deserved to win over her. This was not the first time two actresses from the same film were both nominated for this award (it was actually the fourth of five times so far), but it was the first, and so far only, time that one of them actually won when that happened. Usually it seems like two actresses nominated in the leading category for the same film split the vote for that film, and they end up both losing to someone else. I think there were two main reasons why that didn't happen this year. First, Shirley MacLaine did a remarkably good job, and second, I think a lot of people felt that it was about darn time that she won an Oscar.
Legendary Shirley MacLaine has had a very long film career, beginning in the mid-1950s and continuing to this day and beyond. She's been nominated for Best Actress five times, and for Best Documentary once. Terms of Endearment is her most recent nomination, and her only win. Her first nomination was for 1958's Some Came Running, and two years later she was nominated for the Best Picture winner, The Apartment, which, let's face it, she should have won. While I'm still glad I was introduced to the amusingly awful BUtterfield 8, Elizabeth Taylor did not deserve to beat Shirley MacLaine that year by any means. But I digress. After being robbed that year, MacLaine was nominated again for 1963's Irma La Douce, then for Best Documentary for 1975's The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, and then for Best Actress again for 1977's The Turning Point, alongside previous Best Actress winner Anne Bancroft. So when two people from the same film have been nominated for Best Actress, Shirley MacLaine has been one of them 40% of the time. Interesting.
Next up: Sally Field is back, because we really like her