THE DIVINE MISS M AT MIDLIFE : LOOKING BACK ON HER FORTUNES AND FAILURES, A FIT AND FEISTY BETTE MIDLER RETURNS TO FARCE.(L.A. LIFE)
Article from: Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article date: April 4, 1997
Byline: Bob Strauss Daily News Film Writer
Bette Midler is back.
Boy, is this ever getting old. But with age comes wisdom, they say, and at a fit, feisty 51, Midler has come to terms with a career marked by often outrageous fortune and, sometimes, devastating failure.
“When I was very young and (disappointment) happened to me for the first time, I got quite sick from it,” Midler admits. “But then I toughened up. It’s just part of the job. You have to get over it and get on with it.”
That could be the motto for Midler’s current success cycle. Her last movie, “The First Wives Club,” was an unexpected blockbuster about three dumped women who get new leases on life by getting back at their rotten husbands.
In her recent HBO special, “Diva Las Vegas,” Midler crowed about her comedy smash in the newly lyricized “Everything’s Coming Up Grosses,” which also recalled her last notable triumph, the highly rated 1993 TV production of “Gypsy.”
Now there’s the appropriately titled “That Old Feeling,” a romantic farce in which Midler plays a past-her-prime actress who starts a wild affair with the ex-husband she’s hated for years. On their daughter’s wedding night.
Typically, Midler has high hopes for the movie, which reunites her with the writer of one of her biggest films, “Outrageous Fortune’s” Leslie Dixon. Also typically, she’s not singing any gloating songs prematurely.
“Leslie wrote this for me,” Midler says. “We both wanted to do something big and broad, and I’m thrilled with it. I love those kinds of characters, the fight scenes are great, the love scenes are great, and there’s a little bit of music in it and all this romance. It seems like the right thing at the right time, and I’m really proud of it.
“But you never know if it’s going to be a hit,” she cautions. “I thought `For the Boys’ (her decade-spanning musical epic about USO performers) was gonna be a hit, and it was not. `First Wives Club’: big hit! But as a whole, we had no idea if it was going to work. I thought it was funny, but I didn’t think it was going to do $100 million.”
Not easy being a diva
Whether they attract big audiences or not, no Midler project suffers from lack of effort. From her earliest live acts in New York’s gay baths (where she perfected the ribald Divine Miss M persona) through such signature ballads as “The Rose” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” to a film career that’s careened from the heights of “Ruthless People,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Beaches” to the dregs of “Stella” and “Hocus Pocus,” Midler has built a reputation as an exacting, if earthy, perfectionist.
“Bette made sure that every day’s work was the best day’s work it could be, and that can be very wearing,” says veteran filmmaker Carl Reiner, who directed Midler for the first time in “Feeling.” “She always was searching for what she herself didn’t know was in her. Every take was a little different.”
“This is the third time I’ve written for Bette,” says Dixon, who also provided dialogue for the comedy “Big Business.” “The thing is, she is demanding, but it’s so worth it because there is only one Bette. If you write a joke, no one is going to mine more out of it than Bette.
“Also, I’m a bit edgy and occasionally borderline vulgar as a writer, and no one can put across humor that is not PG in the way that Bette does and not offend anybody,” Dixon adds.
“Feeling” offers Midler ample opportunity to flout propriety. When she’s not disrupting weddings arguing with her ex (played by Dennis Farina, who, like Midler, was in “Get Shorty,” although this is the first time they’ve actually acted with each other), she’s leading their appalled daughter, Paula Marshall (“Chicago Sons”), on a wild chase through New York lovenests.
Current spouses (David Rasche and Gail O’Grady) are left bewildered and abandoned, Midler mouths self-serving justifications for her character’s passionate irresponsibility, and there’s even a stalkerazzi shot of a bloated Bette in too-tight clothing (faked; Midler’s head was grafted onto a heftier woman’s body).
Overall, the film makes a case for acting on honest lust, regardless of how out-of-step that may be with ’90s family values.
“Leslie did have something in mind with that,” Midler says. “She has noted the way that certain segments of society have become quite conservative, and there is a difference in the way certain generations look at the same thing. Which is funny; it’s a send-up.”
And that’s about as deep as Midler intends to get, movie-wise, for the foreseeable future. No more sadness, she vows; just divine madness.
“I don’t want to make a movie that doesn’t make people laugh,” Midler reveals. “I’m not really interested (in drama) anymore. It’s too hard, a lot of the stories are very soap opera-esque. There’s a lot of schmaltz out there, sentiment that’s – sorry – bull—-.
“And I think that comedies are actually truer,” she continues. “They’re more helpful, more enlightening. It’s better to laugh than it is to cry, and at this stage of my life that’s what I want to do.”
Of course, anyone who just had a success like “First Wives” would be inclined to think that way. Midler sees two reasons why that film became a cultural phenomenon.
“There are a lot of angry women out there, and they saw themselves in this comedy,” she reckons. “It struck a note of recognition in their lives, in a humorous way.
“But I think it was more than that. It was also the fact that we were three women whose careers people had been following for years, who had all hit kind of rough patches, but had now finally gotten themselves a decent vehicle. Three phoenixes rising from the ashes; I think people were rooting for us and that had something to do with it, too.”
While Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton have been mentioned for both a “Wives” sequel and something called “Avon Ladies From the Amazon,” and Midler has been linked to a big-screen version of the ’60s sitcom “Green Acres” and a Martin Scorsese film, she says none of those projects have yet reached the viable script stage.
With “Diva” done, too, Midler is happy to bide her time at home in New York with her husband of 12 years, performance artist Martin von Haselberg, and their 10-year-old daughter, Sophie.
“She runs our life,” Midler says of her daughter, who makes a brief appearance in “Feeling.” “When she says, `Jump,’ we say, `How high?’ She has her thing and we just follow along. We’re just there for the ride.”
The bumpy stretches notwithstanding, Midler says her own ride has been a pretty good trip.
“I don’t really mean to sound pompous, but I always did think that this is what my career would turn out to be,” she revels. “And it could have turned out much worse, so I’m grateful for the way it’s gone.
“But this is what I imagined for myself. When people ask me, `What’ll I do?’ I say, `Dream your dream. Put it in your head, and go step by step.’ That’s what I did and it happened well for me.”