Molly Ringwald is giving a remarkable performance as Aurora in the production of “Terms of Endearment.” I especially enjoyed watching her in this emotionally-charged tale of love and loss written by Dan Gordon based on the novel by Larry McMurtry and the screenplay that James L. Brooks wrote for the 1983 film. There is a personal note to my special interest.
When Ringwald was a teenage star I interviewed her and was impressed by her pleasant demeanor and her effort to deal with the publicity she was receiving. I could not have imagined then seeing her so much later excelling in the role of a mother and grandmother. Of course, Ringwald has had much acting experience in film and on stage since then, but it still was a thrill to see her give such a wonderful performance in “Terms of Endearment.”
In the role of Aurora, she is raising her daughter, Emma, superbly played by Hannah Dunne, and is a hypercritical mom, who intensely dislikes Flap (Denver Milord), the young man Emma marries. Aurora is a widow raising her daughter as a single mom and has all the fears of seeing herself aging, and when Emma has her first child, Aurora is horrified at the thought of being a grandmother. What man would want her now?
Ringwald provides a range of images for us to appreciate. She is attractive but forlorn, sexy but reserved, basically warm, but defensively off-putting yet deft at dispensing lines meant to make us laugh. Aurora’s escapades with Garrett, the sexually aggressive but independent-minded, woman-chasing former astronaut who lives next door and is dynamically and amusingly played by the excellent Jeb Brown, are a marvel, especially when she throws away caution and decides to bed him.
When Ringwald has to turn the corner and become lovingly close to Emma when she is stricken with cancer, there is a whole new aspect to her performance, a further dimension that shows what a very fine actor she has become in maturity.
“Terms of Endearment” has all the makings of a tear-jerker, but as staged here under the direction of Michael Parva, it is so much more than that. There is much humor present, thanks to the level of the performances and the writing, and one gets to feel that this is ultimately a very human and even entertaining story that rises above button-pushing to elicit tears and instead evokes real emotions and well-earned wet eyes.
It is a long time since I have seen the film that starred Shirley MacClaine as Aurora, Debra Winger as Emma and Jack Nicholson as Garrett, so memory dims. That is just as well, for this “Terms of Endearment” deserves to be taken on its own merits without comparisons, and on that basis it stands as an impressive work well worth visiting. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4299. Reviewed November 24, 2016.