Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, ...
Credit: Terms of Endearment: Everett Collection

Why ”Terms of Endearment” is a top tearjerker

Blame it all on Huckleberry Fox. The towheaded tyke was only 8 years old when ”Terms of Endearment” was filmed, but Fox, who played Debra Winger’s younger son, Teddy, in the cancer-in-the-heartland comedy-drama, delivered perhaps the most sob-worthy performance in screen history. Of course, Fox was surrounded by a perfectly schmaltz-free cast — including Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, whose riotous December-December romance earned them both Academy Awards. And he was beautifully guided by that master of unforced emotion, James L. Brooks, who won three Oscars for the film (for adapting Larry McMurtry’s novel, directing, and producing). Still, no performer, prepubescent or otherwise, has ever had such power over our tear ducts as Fox. One third of the way into the movie, when Mom (Debra Winger) comes up a few dollars short on the supermarket checkout line, young Huckleberry brings on the throat lumps by relinquishing his prized Clark bar, saying, ”I don’t need it.”

KLEENEX MOMENT MacLaine is at her devastating best as she takes down an entire nurses’ station by screaming ”Give my daughter the shots!” But when a deathbed-ridden Winger says her final goodbye to her boys, it’s Fox who causes the Great Flood of Our Living Rooms. He utters one line (”Why don’t you shut up, shut up!” delivered to his bratty older brother), but he expresses the unspeakable by scrunching his tiny face into a ball of profound grief and fear, thereby endearing us all to him for a lifetime.

Terms of Endearment
  • Movie
  • 132 minutes