Terms of Endearment covers three decades in the lives of widow Aurora Greenaway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). Fiercely protected by Aurora throughout childhood, Emma runs into resistance from her mother when she marries wishy-washy college teacher Flap (Jeff Daniels). Aurora is even more put out at the prospect of being a grandmother, though she grows a lot fonder of her three grandkids than she does of her son-in-law. Flap proves that Aurora's instincts were on target when he enters into an affair with a student (Kate Charleson). Meanwhile, Emma finds romantic consolation with an unhappily married banker (played by John Lithgow, who registers well in a rare "nice guy" performance). As for Aurora, she is ardently pursued by her next-door neighbor, boisterous astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson).
Having lived his life as the gardener on a millionaire's estate, Chance (Peter Sellers) knows of the real world only what he has seen on TV. When his benefactor dies, Chance walks aimlessly into the streets of Washington D.C., where he is struck by a car owned by wealthy Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine). Identifying himself, the confused man mutters "Chance…gardener," which Eve takes to be "Chauncey Gardiner." Eve takes him to her home to convalesce, and because Chance is so well-dressed and well-groomed, and because he speaks in such a cultured tone, everyone in her orbit assumes that "Chauncey Gardiner" must be a man of profound intelligence. No matter what he says, it is interpreted as a pearl of wisdom and insight. He rises to the top of Washington society, where his simplistic responses to the most difficult questions (responses usually related to his gardening experience) are highly prized by the town's movers and shakers.
Set during the Cuban missile crisis, Waiting for the Light is an off-beat comic tale about a single mother of two (Teri Garr) who has just taken over a roadside cafe with her aunt (Shirley MacLaine), a former circus magician. MacLaine and the children pull a prank on her crotchety next-door neighbor, who is tricked into believing that the image he sees is actually an angel. Soon, the entire town believes an angel is living at Garr's diner, and eventually people come to the diner from miles around in hopes of seeing the angel.