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|Shirley MacLaine||Aurora Greenway|
|Debra Winger||Emma Greenway Horton|
|Jack Nicholson||Garrett Breedlove|
|Danny DeVito||Vernon Dahlart|
|Jeff Daniels||Flap Horton|
|John Lithgow||Sam Burns|
|Huckleberry Fox||Teddy Horton|
|Albert Brooks||Rudyard (voice)|
"Come to Laugh, Come to Cry, Come to Care, Come to Terms."
Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) are mother and daughter, both searching for deep romantic love. Beginning with Emma's early childhood, Aurora reveals how difficult and caring she can be by nearly climbing into Emma's crib in order to make sure her daughter is breathing—only to be reassured once Emma starts crying (after physically waking her up). After the death of Aurora's husband and Emma's father Rudyard (A. Brooks), Aurora and Emma have an extremely close love-hate mother/daughter relationship as Emma grows up.
The film follows both women across several years as each find their reasons for going on living and finding joy. Emma gets married immediately upon graduating high school in the Houston area to Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), of whom Aurora so disapproves that she refuses to attend the wedding. Emma's best friend Patsy Clark (Lisa Hart Caroll) continues on to college and eventually becoming successful and rich in New York City. Emma has two children that she and Flap, who eventually becomes a college professor, struggle to support in Des Moines, Iowa, and she later telephones her mother and asks for money when she is pregnant with her third child. Aurora, not knowing by the telephone call that Emma is already several months pregnant, wants Emma to get an abortion. Emma's once-passionate marriage to Flap becomes strained, thanks mostly to his philandering, and she eventually has a romantic love affair with married, small-town, older banker Sam Burns (John Lithgow).
At the same time, Aurora remains celibate but cultivates the attention of several gentlemen in the area, some rather bizarre. However, she is attracted to her next door neighbor of 15 years, the womanizing, alcoholic retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Aurora and Garrett eventually go on a lunch date, make love, and develop a tenuous relationship.
Emma returns to her mother's home in Houston after discovering her husband is having an affair with a young grad student named Janice (Kate Charleson). However, Emma's appearance along with her three children makes Garrett uncomfortable, as he has been single for a long time. While Emma is in Houston, Flap telephones her, and she reluctantly returns home to Iowa, trying reconciliation with him. After re-assessing his relationship with Aurora, Garrett breaks up with her, greatly upsetting her.
Emma ends the relationship with Sam after Flap accepts a new teaching position in Kearney, Nebraska. Although she does not want to, Emma agrees to relocate to further Flap's career. However, Emma soon discovers that Janice is attending the same college where Flap now works, realizing that Flap followed her to Nebraska. With her daughter Melanie (Megan Morris) in a stroller, Emma confronts Janice before taking Melanie to the doctor's office so both can get flu shots. While administering the injection, Emma's doctor notices two large lumps under Emma's armpit. Although Emma is only in her 30s, the doctor orders a biopsy and discovers she has a malignancy.
Patsy invites Emma to New York City for her first vacation without her children. However, after arriving, Emma feels out-of-place amongst Patsy's friends and returns home early to begin treatment for her illness. Later, her doctor informs her that the drugs she was taking did not have the desired effect, and that she will not survive her illness. Flap and Aurora remain by her bedside in the hospital for weeks. Although devastated and exhausted, Aurora is still very supportive and loving towards Emma. Garrett flies to Lincoln, Nebraska, and surprises Aurora, and the two proclaim their love for each other.
After a discussion in the hospital cafeteria between Aurora and Flap, in which Aurora tells him that he does not have the energy for a job, chasing women, and managing a family, Aurora tells Flap that she should raise his and Emma's children in Houston. Although Patsy, who has no children of her own, wants to adopt Melanie, Flap and Emma do not want their children to be separated. Emma, not wanting Janice to raise her children, and Flap, feeling like a failure as both a father and a husband, agree that living with Aurora is best for their children.
As Emma's time begins to run short, Emma's eldest son Tom "Tommy" (Troy Bishop) shows open resentment toward his mother due to circumstances such as social class, fights between his parents, and Tommy's perception of feeling unloved. Emma reassures her two sons that they are loved, and after an altercation with Aurora, Tommy weeps in Aurora arms. Emma dies later that night. Following Emma's funeral, Emma and Aurora's friends and family gather in Aurora's backyard for a memorial service. Garrett shows love toward each of Emma's children and helps Tommy cope during the wake. The film closes on Aurora, sitting next to Melanie.
Theatrical : 1983-12-09 : United States of America
DVD : 2009-01-20
DVD : 2001-04-10