#319. Shirley MacLaine

While there are plenty of comediennes in Hollywood today, this wasn’t always the case. Most of the women who appeared in comedies were either cast as serious characters to offset the hilarity of their male counterparts (as was done in The Marx Brothers’ films) or were used only as naïve damsels who would eventually fall in love with the male main character. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when women started to have roles that could showcase their comedic talent. Shirley MacLaine was one of these women, and she has continued to support comedies to this day. With such a long and diverse career, MacLaine has managed to maintain her poise and dignity in a genre that often resorts to slapstick and lowbrow jokes to get their laughs. This week’s two films highlights some of Shirley MacLaine’s best roles.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

When it comes to awards, comedies are often at a disadvantage when compared to dramas. It is disappointing to have such a bias toward dramatic stories and roles when there are plenty of excellent comedic films. This bias is also present for the actors who play these comedic roles. Because of this challenge, the comedic actors and actresses who manage to be nominated for their work have overcome much to earn that honor. Shirley MacLaine has received nominations for Best Actress five times during her career. For three decades, she received nominations for Some Came Running (1958), The Apartment (1960), Irma la Douce (1963), and The Turning Point (1976). Finally, in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, a film that also took home Best Picture, she took home that coveted statuette for her role as Aurora Greenway.

Despite being alone, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) readily confides in her adult daughter, Emma (Debra Winger). Both of them are practically in the same life stage: searching for love wherever it may reside. Unfortunately, as Emma finds love with Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s disapproval puts a wedge between them both. Meanwhile, Aurora gets to know her neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) and falls in love with the retired astronaut. Through some difficult times in Emma’s marriage and journey through motherhood, Aurora is always there for her. Unfortunately, there is little Aurora can do once Emma is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A mother never wants to bury their child, even if said child has had a meaningful and love-filled life up until that point.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

From her very first role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), MacLaine soon found herself in many Best Picture winners. Only a year later did she have a role in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), the Best Picture for that year. Four years after that, she would appear in The Apartment (1960), also a Best Picture winner. Along with the aforementioned Terms of Endearment, MacLaine certainly has a knack for appearing in fantastic movies. Of course, when I go back and watch The Apartment, I realize how young she really was. Today, she has aged gracefully into other roles in such movies as Steel Magnolias (1989), Guarding Tess (1994), Bernie (2011), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), and The Last Word (2017). Still, one of her most iconic roles for me was as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment.

Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is an elevator operator in an insurance office. While her job has its ups and downs, the least of which is repeated sexual harassment from some of the men, she eventually runs into Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon). Bud asks Fran out on a date to go see The Music Man at the theater that night. Fran accepts but never shows up since she first has to meet up with her lover, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Coincidentally, Sheldrake takes Fran back to Bud’s apartment. Bud had been loaning his conveniently located apartment out to his co-workers so they could have their extramarital affairs in exchange for a recommendations to get him promoted. When Bud finally comes home, he finds Fran in his bed, having attempted suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. Over the next few weeks, he helps her get back on her feet, and they both fall in love in the process.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Shirley MacLaine roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty / Joey Slotnick -> Hollow Man / Kevin Bacon)


#234. Balloons

If there’s one celebratory item that we have all encountered in our life, it would be that of the balloon. Thoughts of balloons will often conjure up memories of birthday parties, circuses, and school dances. The balloon is almost so ubiquitous in its connection to parties that you might even consider such an event to not be a party if there aren’t any balloons. Surprisingly enough, even though we all have many balloon-related memories, there are very few films that focus on these inflatable decorations as a main point of their plot. Sure, they might play a supporting role in various settings, but the number of movies that revolve around balloons could probably be counted on a single hand. That being said, there are at least two, which is why this week’s two films are ones that use balloons as their main plot device.

Year: 2009
Rating: PG
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

I would wager that one of the most difficult things to do while holding a balloon would be to frown. That being said, oftentimes a trait of old men is that of frowning. Perhaps this is why the dichotomy of the two is beautifully mixed together in the 2009 Pixar film, Up. While other films over the years have shown travelling by balloon as part of its plot (most notably the 1956 Best Picture, Around the World in 80 Days), most of these have been with a single, hot air balloon. Very rarely are clusters of balloons used to travel long distances. Not only are helium balloons unable to carry that much weight, but the cost to fill enough balloons with said helium is exorbitantly prohibitive. However, with the physics and economics-defying ability of animation, an old widower is able to lift his entire house and fly all the way to South America.

From a young age, Ellie and Carl (Ed Asner) first met through an event in an abandoned house involving a single balloon. Years pass and they experience a loving, if not tragic life together as husband and wife. When Ellie suddenly dies, Carl decides to honor her memory by finally visiting the alleged location of their mutual hero: Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer). In order to do this, he ties a multitude of colorful balloons to his house and uses it to fly to South America and Paradise Falls. Arriving just short of his destination after a thunderstorm puts him off course, Carl sets forth to carry the floating house over to the falls. Along the way, he and Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young boy who was inadvertently brought along for the ride, find a strange bird whom Russell names Kevin. They then meet Dug, a simple dog working under Muntz. Having now met his disappointing hero, Carl decides to do the right thing.

The Red BalloonThe Red Balloon
Year: 1956
Rating: G
Length: 34 minutes / 0.57 hours

The most iconic version of the balloon is the red one. While many balloons come in a full spectrum of colors and shapes, the inverted teardrop in bright fire-truck red is the go-to image that we conjure up when we think of a balloon. It’s no wonder that many instances of the red balloon have made it into our popular culture. From “99 Red Balloons”, the English version of the German anti-war song, to Billy’s Balloon, an animated short by Don Hertzfeldt, this symbol of childhood permeates our culture in many ways. The simplicity of such a plot device allows for some interesting films, no matter their length. In the aforementioned Billy’s Balloon, we find a sentient balloon (and its brethren) interacting with a young child. This is no doubt a somewhat more twisted re-imagining of the 1956 French short, Le Ballon Rouge (i.e. The Red Balloon).

On a day like any other, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse) is heading to school when he finds the eponymous Red Balloon and decides to play with it. After some time interacting with the helium-filled friend, Pascal starts to notice that the balloon does what it wants. In fact, continuing his march toward school, he finds that the balloon follows him. This curious phenomenon is noticed by everyone he passes until he finally arrives at his destination. At school, the balloon causes a disturbance that leads to Pascal being sent to the principal’s office. After school, he and the balloon meet a girl who has a similar, sentient Blue Balloon. Unfortunately, the attention brought to Pascal’s plastic friend causes some bullies to pop the balloon out of jealousy. In an act of community, all the remaining balloons in Paris come to comfort Pascal at his loss, lifting him up for a ride into the sky.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 floating flicks