There are a few indications that “Beaches,” the story of a long and checkered friendship between two women, takes place in the 1980s. There is the fact, for instance, that when one of the friends, a wealthy Californian named Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey) announces that she plans to have a baby and raise it alone, the other friend, a vivacious singer named C.C. Bloom (Bette Midler) says this will be just wonderful.
In other respects, though, “Beaches” is strictly a 40s saga, complete with bitter feuds, tearful recriminations, loving affirmations and, of course, the kind of fatal illness that can drag on endlessly without altering the afflicted’s good looks.
Those who go to see “Beaches,” which was directed by Garry Marshall, ought to know what they’ll be getting, and that they’ll be getting quite a lot of it.
“Beaches” â€” which has a couple of key scenes that take place at the beach, but otherwise never justifies that title except perhaps with the vague view that we are all life’s driftwood â€” is pure soap from beginning to end.
Though its stars work hard to hold attention, they are asked to play this story absolutely straight. Even viewers with a taste for melodrama will doubtless expect more irony or perspective on the genre that “Beaches” has to offer.
Of course, there is a flashback: C.C. Bloom, now a big star rehearsing a concert at the Hollywood Bowl (Miss Midler sings a sultry version of “Under the Boardwalk”), suddenly receives shocking news. She drives off in a terrible rainstorm, heading we know not where. Cut to C.C.’s girlhood, to an Atlantic City sojourn during which the brassy little redhead (played by Mayim Bialik, who does a wicked imitation of the adult Miss M.) makes friends with the rich overprotected Hillary.
Perhaps they do not know that this friendship will last a lifetime, but we, of course, do. C.C. and Hillary become loyal pen pals. (C.C. in New York: “I’m on my own now and I’ve got a flat, a can of mace and a subscription to Variety. I’m all set.”) They keep this up until, in their early 20s, they are reunited as New York roommates, banging on the radiators with the kind of pluck that only New York movie roommates have.
As opposites, C.C. and Hillary do make an appealing if pat combination, Miss Hershey looking the demure debutante and Miss Midler brazening her way through every situation. Together, they make the friendship convincing and theÂ story a lot more interesting than it otherwise would be.
Each of the heroines is allowed one marriage (though one of the husbands, John Heard as a theater director, manages to become involved with both of the friends). After this, though, men mostly fade out of the story, leaving C.C. and Hillary to confront age, rivalry, success and finally mortality.
By the time “Beaches” arrives at the inevitable tragic and bittersweet note, though, it seems to have run through several different preliminary endings. Any one of these would have sufficed.
Miss Midler gets to sing a lot, which is a big help. In the supporting cast, Spalding Gray looks mildly stunned at having to play the dreamboat doctor who nearly takes C.C. away from her life of glitter, but he does have one of theÂ film’s few memorable lines. “I don’t understand it,” he says when things go wrong. “I mean, just yesterday she was telling me she wanted to be a nurse.”
“Beaches” is rated PG-13 (“Special Parental Guidance Suggested for Children Younger Than 13”). It includes some off-color language and one mildly risque musical routine.