Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, [CELEBRITY_LINK "Julia Roberts"] [P] Men in general and Southern men in particular may want to consider drumming this movie's director, Herbert Ross, and its writer (adapting his own play), Robert Harling, out of the fraternity. [P] The problem lies neither with the presence nor the performances of the six actresses who are its stars; they are uniformly terrific and, in the cases of MacLaine and Parton, operating at the highest levels of their art. [P] What demeans their talents and restricts the film to what is at best a sappy, melodramatic Terms of Endearment Goes South is that Harling and Ross have filled the movie with men who, as characters and actors, are all but total washouts. So ludicrous are the male figures that the women, their strength and perseverance obviously being manifested in a cartoonish universe, more and more come to seem like caricatures. [P] MacLaine is a hellion/curmudgeon who, like the more affably mischievous Dukakis, seems to be independently wealthy. They hang around the small Louisiana town where the story is set, gossiping with Parton, who owns a beauty parlor, Hannah, who works for Parton, Field, a devoted mother, and Roberts, Field's diabetic daughter. [P] The marvelous opening sequence begins in Parton's shop, where the women are happily chatting about Roberts's forthcoming marriage, and ends outside with the arrival of MacLaine, who tells the dissatisfied Parton, "I used to think you were crazy for marrying that man. Then for a few years I thought you were a glutton for punishment. Now I know you're on a mission from God." [P] Once the women venture outside the polished, lacquered and blown-dry cloister, though, Ross [The Turning Point, The Sunshine Boys) and Harling start throwing straw men at them. There is literally not one strong male figure in the movie. Even Sam Shepard, as Parton's husband (whose lackadaisical attitude is never explained but is tiresomely demonstrated), fades into the scenery. Dylan (Hamburger Hill) McDermott, in the crucial role of Roberts's husband, couldn't be less of a presence if he were invisible. The man who becomes MacLaine's beau is played by Bill McCutcheon, a character actor who has made a career of portraying wimpy milquetoasts and pursues that career at full throttle here. And while Tom (Alien) Skerritt is (fortunately for him) not as scrawny in talent as he is in appearance, he is so often shoved to the periphery of this story as Field's ineffectual husband that he too seems inconsequential. [P] Meanwhile the women are all bustling around spouting homilies and homespun humor. Some of it is funny: Hannah, detailing her unhappy marriage, soberly reassures everyone in the beauty parlor, "My personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair." Parton, describing her son's new girlfriend, says, "The best thing I can say about her is: All her tattoos are spelled correctly." [P] Much of the dialogue, however, is embarrassing hokum that could have been scraped directly off the cob and onto Harling's script: "I'd rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothin' special." "An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure." "That's what my mind says; I wish somebody'd explain it to my heart." [P] Then at the end, the plot takes a maudlin—and oddly unaffecting—turn, adding to the aura of artificiality. [P] The actresses keep struggling. Dukakis and MacLaine, confronted with a preposterous scene in which they almost get into a brawl, miraculously make it coherent and almost touching. Mostly, however, the six women seem like pro basketball players making one spectacular move after another in 'a lopsided, meaningless game. You have to admire their talent, but you don't have to care at all about how anything turns out. (PG) [P]
  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak.