Wed. Oct 28th, 2020

Worst Picture/Best Picture Series: The Lonely Lady and Terms of Endearment (1983)

Two strong female driven films were released in 1983 starring classic leading ladies. Terms of Endearment stars Debra Winger and Golden Globe winner Shirley MacLaine (who would later win an Oscar for this film) as a daughter and mother who have a close relationship with many uphill and downhill moments. The Lonely Lady stars Golden Globe winner Pia Zadora (who would later win a Razzie for this film) as a writer who gets into the entertainment industry and becomes a successful screenwriter. Both films follow their leads as they encounter many struggles in their lives and the men they meet along the way. However, one film is beautifully written while the other is lacking in what women are really like.



THE LONELY LADY“Nobody’s sure how it came to be, how it was ever released in even a single theater, or why it’s still here and nearly impossible to get rid of, but take it or leave it, it IS here to stay.” – Christopher T. Chase,

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT – “Mr. Brooks, even when struggling with the demands of his narrative, continues to bring out the best in this material: its humanity and its humor.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

The Lonely Lady opens at the prestigious Awards Presentation Ceremony, the annual Hollywood event where the stars gather to see who the best of the year is. The fans shout and cheer as the celebrities make their way down the red carpet. Suddenly, a beautiful blonde in a luscious red dress enters the scene. Someone from the crowd asks his friend who she is, to which the friend replies “Can’t be anybody if she doesn’t have an escort.” Right on cue, the title track begins and a powerful voice sings about the lonely lady Jerilee.

It flashes back to her younger days. Having just received an award for her writing abilities at school, Jerilee attends a party afterwards to celebrate with her friends. Among the friends is Ray Liotta in his film debut. Once he declared in his first onscreen line “your award looks like a penis”, it was without question that Mr. Liotta was going to be a star. Jerilee and her friends decide to leave the party a little early so they drive home, having sex in the car along the way like one typically does. Then, getting home, Ray’s character decides it would be a good idea to have a little fun with Jerilee by the pool, so he has his way with her, deciding to stick his hose in her. No, I’m not referring to his award, he literally sticks her with a garden hose. Oh well, at least he didn’t put a chicken between her knees or something.

Terms of Endearment begins by introducing the audience to Aurora and her relationship with her daughter Emma when she was a baby all the way up to her wedding day. Aurora is obviously very close to Emma and has a hard time letting go of her, especially when she decides to marry Flap. Flap, an English teacher, doesn’t look like your typical ruggedly handsome husband who can provide his new wife with money and happiness. In fact, the only thing it seems that he is good at is making sweet Emma yelp like a hyena when they make love to showtunes.

After Jerilee’s rape, she is obviously quite shaken up and becomes a bit of a recluse. Luckily, the father of one of the partygoers is famous screenwriter Walter Thornton. Hearing of her accident and that she is a fan of his, he comes to visit and comfort her. Even though he’s about thirty years older than her, the two hit it off immediately. They go on a date together with Walter’s agent George, a man who declares women can’t write dialogue. Jerilee is appalled by the statement and starts listing famous female authors, but George says they’re just eggheads and that she doesn’t need to worry about thinking anyway because she’s got a nice figure. “Don’t look so glum, maybe next time you’ll be born ugly.” That’s a pretty silly comment in the film, after all, who believe in reincarnation anyway?

Jerilee and Walter soon get engaged, and just like Aurora’s disapproval of Emma marrying a writer, Jerilee’s mother disapproves of her marrying Walter. Jerilee defends herself and the things Walter can teach her about writing. “Do you want me to marry some nice guy from the Valley, have two or three kids and be bored for the rest of my life?” But luckily Jerilee’s mother’s disapproval lasts for one scene and quickly goes away right after the engagement is announced. Besides, who would want to watch a movie about a couple getting married and having three kids together anyway?

With Emma and Flap and their new son moving away to Iowa, Aurora is stuck at home in Houston living the life of a widowed fifty-year-old bachelorette (or is it fifty-two?). Luckily, she has the Breeedlove-machine Garrett the astronaut (played by Jack Nicholson in his Oscar winning role) living next door to keep her company. Aurora asks Garrett to go on a lunch date with him. After eating and having a little bit of bourbon together, the two take a ride along the gulf in Garrett’s convertible. Driving wildly on the beach and Garrett standing up in the seat, Aurora slams on the brakes and he flies into the ocean. She goes to check on him and the two embrace, passionately kissing. Suddenly, Garrett puts his hand down her dress which immediately halts the romance. Perhaps Aurora was afraid that Garrett had a garden hose with him. Women have their limits after all.

There is a very pivotal scene in The Lonely Lady. Shortly after marrying Walter, he gives Jerilee a job to help type up the re-writes and just see what it’s like being on set. She does more than just typing the re-writes, she makes the re-writes herself. The scene they’re shooting involves a woman burying her child and the actress gives a long monologue. The actress and others think the scene is too wordy and doesn’t carry the impact it’s supposed to. Besides, movies about mothers outliving their children rarely work. So Jerilee comes up with the brilliant idea of revising the script and instead makes the mother cry out “Why?!” Of course, Walter gets extremely pissed at Jerilee for changing his words. But after the scene, the entire crew applauds and the actress rushes over to Walter, thanking him for the new wonderful word. And, the pig of a man that he is, he takes credit for it.

While Emma and Flap have managed to raise a family together with two boys and a new baby girl, Flap keeps moving them all over from state to state. Finally Emma catches on that it’s not just the new jobs that make Flap relocate, he’s seeing someone else on the side. Meanwhile, Jerilee’s dialogue of “Why?!” pissed off Walter so much that the two get into a big argument and he tells her she should just run off with her garden hose. I’m not sure whether Jerilee took his advice with the hose, but she and Emma both decided to take a break from their husbands. Emma went back to Houston to see her mom and Jerilee decided to write a screenplay about “two people right after Vietnam who love each other desperately but they just can’t make it because they’re totally different.” It must be very difficult to write about two things that are completely different from each other and make them work.

Even though Flap was having an affair with Emma which caused the breakup, Emma was actually cheating on him as well. While at the grocery store, Emma bumped into Sam (John Lithgow), the local minister who banned dancing in the town, and they hooked up. Similarly, Jerilee decides to fool around with George (no, not the agent George, a different George), an actor from one of the movies Walter wrote. Though hesitant at first, George gives her some advice: “You only live once, Jerilee. Not much happens after that.” Somehow I think Aurora wouldn’t tell Emma the same thing. Anyway, after having a nice time together, Emma and Sam decide to stop seeing each other and they end on good terms. Unfortunately it’s not the same case with Jerilee. After George II gets Jerilee pregnant she decides to have an abortion and breaks it off with him. So she hooks up with Vincent, a club owner who has connections in the industry. While waiting for hearing back from the overseas investors, Vincent gets her a job at his club where she can wear a skimpy dress and carry around her script serving cocktails to coked-up businessmen.

Amidst all of the fun Jerilee seems to be having sleeping around with people in Hollywood, Emma on the other hand isn’t doing too well. After her vacation at home with her mom, she returns to Flap, just in time to discover she’s got a lump near her armpit. Her fears are confirmed and the doctor tells her she has cancer. To help her feel better and give her another break from Flap the pig, her friend Patsy takes her on a trip to New York. Meeting a bunch of Patsy’s stuck up friends, Emma realizes life in the Big Apple is certainly not for her. Meanwhile, Jerilee is invited to hang out with a bunch of Vincent’s friends. And unlike Patsy’s friends who all seemed to have had divorces and weird names, Vincent’s friends all want to have sex with each other.

Perhaps hanging out in big cities isn’t really good for our protagonists. Returning from New York, Emma’s cancer has gotten worse and she’s stuck in the hospital. And returning from her script pitching orgy of liquor, cocaine, and sex, Jerilee has a nervous breakdown and gets stuck in the hospital as well. Then things are a little blurry in the film after that, perhaps to establish what it’s really like to have a nervous breakdown and be in shock for a long period of time.

In her final days, Emma ad Flap see each other and discuss what happens with their kids after she’s gone. Thought it’s a very dramatic moment for Flap, it feels a bit too wordy and doesn’t have as much emotion as it should have. Now, when Jerilee is in the hospital, Walter finally shows up again to see her. Sitting down beside her, he reaches out to touch her hand and she freaks out, screaming in a harrowing frenzy. That’s how drama is done.

There is a moment at the end of Terms of Endearment when Aurora and Flap are at Emma’s side. The two are awakened by a nurse who tells them that Emma has passed away. Aurora gets up and cries out that there’s nothing harder and hugs Flap. It’s a dramatic scene but it seemed like something was missing. Aurora’s tearful goodbye is a bit long, I think with a simple “Why?” the scene would have been brilliant.

At the conclusion of The Lonely Lady, it returns to the opening scene of the film where Jerilee is at the Awards Presentation. Through all the turmoil and determination of getting her script made into a film, she seems to have finally made it. Surprisingly, she is competing against Walter for Best Screenplay. The presenter opens the envelope and there is a long pause, the suspense is maddening. Finally, it is announced that Jerilee has won. Going up to the podium, she thanks those involved with the film and concludes her speech by saying “I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to fuck her way to the top.” She tearfully leaves her award on stage and walks off with the audience booing her. The film ends with her walking lonely out of the building as the title song is played once again. Compared to James L. Brooks’ Emma, I think it’s safe to say Jerilee’s gonna make it after all.

As was mentioned at the beginning, one film had lacking dialogue and the other was realistic. Terms of Endearment was written solely by James L. Brooks, who obviously is not a woman. And though The Lonely Lady has two men credited as the screenwriter for the film, the credits also say “Adapted by Ellen Shepard”. Perhaps that is why the dialogue is so rich and powerful, because a woman helped revise the script and change the words for the better. After all, what Walter told to Jerilee, “to write about things you have to experience things” and I doubt James L. Brooks ever experienced sleeping around with an astronaut. So, even though James L. Brooks won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, he didn’t win the Award Award that Jerilee won and I think it’s obvious why he didn’t.

[author image=”” ]Jeff spends too much time watching movies, but when he’s not watching them, he helps make them by working in the grip and electric department. Some would say he chose this profession because of the thrill of being on set and helping create art, but the real reason is most G&E don’t need to wear pants. Along with being a film nerd, Jeff enjoys riding his bike everywhere around the Southern California and watching his friends perform improv.[/author]

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