Co-starring with Bette Midler must be a lot like digging a tunnel through the Rocky Mountains with a spoon. No matter how valiant an effort you put forth, it’s going to be damned near impossible to make an impression.
That’s Barbara Hershey‘s problem as she tries to hold her own with the domineering Midler in the entertaining dramatic comedy Beaches (at Portage Place). Expertly controlled and contrived by director Garry Marshall, this is a tear-jerker
showcase for Midler’s talents.
Beaches follows the 30-year friendship between Midler and Hershey, who meet on a beach as girls in 1958. The two are from totally different backgrounds. Hershey is a privileged rich kid who is quiet and reserved. Midleris, well, Midler.
This thing has been custom tailored to Midler’s specifications. This isn’t so much acting for Midler as it is playing the role she’s played most of her professional life.
Her C.C. Bloom character is a brash, boorish e n t e r t a i n er who sings, acts and records her way to fame, only to lose it, then get it back again. Gee, Bette, does that feel like ‘dejavu?
Obviously, a character like this fills the whole screen with sight and-sound. Midler dominates every Scene with her effervescent personality. Almost lost in the shuffle is Hershey’s f i ne p e r f o rma n ce as Midler’s patient and understanding friend. It’s hard enough taking a role where you’re expected to be subdued, but next to Midler you can
practically become invisible.
Of course, one of the main plot thrusts is that Hershey’s character gets washed away by the glitz of Midler’s flamboyant lifestyle. Yet Midler depends on the quiet strength of her friend to get her through the highs and lows that go hand in hand with celebrity status.
Keep in touch
You can see where all of this is going right from the beginning. The two girls (young Mayim Bialik is inspired casting as an 11-year-old M i d l e r) keep in touch over the years, sometimes living with each other, other times corresponding across the country as their lives change.
Through it all, though, it’s Midler falling back on Hershey for help. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the big dramatic moment will come when the roles are reversed.
It all sounds like so much Hollywood hokum and I guess it is. But darn it if doesn’t get its hooks into you anyway.
Director Marshall allows Midler to do a litle bit of everything she’s good at. Within the framework of Beaches this is all believable. So the frenetic song-and-dance routine from a racy Broadway play, recording sessions and concert foot-age gives Midler the latitude to let her talent all hang out. The script also gives her the chance to do that bitchy routine she’s so good at.
The melodrama sometimes hits with all the subtlety of an Ethel Merman showstopper, but you’ll find yourself caught up in the sobbing despite how obviously Marshall telegraphs the plot changes. And there’s always Hershey’s restrained performance to add a l i t t le class to Midler’s crass