(In French, On Cable TV, May 2017) Get your hankies out, because Terms of Endearment is here to make you sob as hard as you can. The story of a relationship between a mother and her daughter spanning decades, this is the kind of slice-of-life movie where mundane details add up to epochal drama. The weight of the passing years heighten the sweep of the drama, but it’s not all wall-to-wall dourness as the film does reach for comedy under writer/director James L. Brooks. Some of the film’s most memorable moments are very funny, although they do take on a more sombre quality knowing how the film ends. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger both turn in best-of-career performances as the mother/daughter duo, with Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, Danny Devito and John Lightgow all delivering good supporting roles along the way. It’s a kind of A-list picture that big studios don’t make anymore (although you’ll find similar material in independent films) and while it still works today, it’s a kind of movie made for a specific audience—I didn’t respond all that deeply to it, but I suspect that’s because I fall outside its target demographic.
(On cable TV, April 2012) Watching well-made romantic comedies is so effortless that making them seems easy… and then you find one that doesn’t quite work as well as it could. On the surface, How Do You Know isn’t a hard movie to like: It has four good actors in the lead (Paul Rudd is charming as the co-protagonist and Owen Wilson is almost hilarious as a clueless baseball player but the film’s highlight is that Reese Witherspoon is aging really well –I can’t recall her looking any better), appealing characters, quirky details, a few big laughs and a somewhat witty script. Shot to glossy perfection in the streets of Washington DC, it’s the kind of film fully steeped in movie-magic, fit to send audiences in a feel-good trance. And yet… it never quite clicks. The dialogues, even from the first few scenes, seem willfully scattered. The scenes go on for longer than they should, and no amount of character charm nor scene-setting can excuse the tepid rhythm. While How Do You Know earns a few credits for avoiding the more obvious clichés of romantic comedies, it doesn’t quite replace those clichés with anything remarkably compelling. The look at the struggles of an aging female athlete seems eclipsed by the look at the idiocy of an aging male athlete, while the corporate malfeasance plot doesn’t quite boil at any point in the story. It all amount to nothing much; at best, a pleasantly eccentric but forgettable romance. But then, looking up the film’s production information, you find out that it cost $120 million, almost half of which was spent on five key salaries… and the film goes from unobjectionable to incomprehensible. Really, writer/director James L. Brooks? Did you really need Jack Nicholson to play his same shtick for that amount of money? How Do You Know feels like the kind of low-budget romance given to hungry up-and-coming directors for a quick release a modest box-office… not blockbuster budgets and massive audiences: there’s nothing here to warrant more attention. No amount of “Eh, it was all right” can recoup those losses.