BetteBack January 12, 1989: Beaches Is A Washout – Roger Ebert

Alton Telegraph
January 12, 1989


Maybe the problem is with the flashbacks.

Maybe if the whole story had simply been told from beginning to end it would have felt less like one of those 1950s tearjerkers with the rain blowing in through the window and getting the curtains all wet.

But Beaches begins on a note of impending doom, and that colors everything else with an undertone of bittersweet poignancy, and believe me, there is only so much bittersweet poignancy I can take in any one movie.

The film opens with CC Bloom (Bette Midler), a pop star, rehearsing for a big concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Then she gets an urgentmessage, and suddenly the concert seems unimportant and she has to drop everything and race to San Francisco. Well, of course there’s bad weather and the planes are all grounded, so she sets off through the night in a rental car, raindrops on the windshield and tears in her eyes.

The movie then flashes back to an event some years earlier on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, where young CC first meets a playmate named Hillary Whitney. CC is a trouper even at the age of 12, and we follow her through a showbiz audition in which her mother (Lainie Kazan) cheerleads from the front of the stalls. She doesn’t get the job, but she does make a friend in Hillary, and, of course, this friendship is to endure all during the lives of these two quite different women, all the way up until the tragedy that is foreshadowed in the opening scenes.

What happens in the first half-hour of Beaches is sort of discouraging. The story is set up so completely in terms of ancient movie cliches that we know we can relax; nothing unexpected is going to happen. W e’re way ahead of the characters on the screen. We know that the two women will meet again as young adults, that they will fall in love with the same man, that one will love him and the other leave him, that they’ll have some big fights, but their friendship will endure. We also know, of course, that some sort of movie disease will strike Hillary – because why else is CC driving all night through the rain?

Hillary Whitney is played in the movie by Barbara Hershey, as a rich W ASP to Midler’s irreverent Jewish girl. Various men and marriages drift in and out of view, but the important thing is that Hillary has a child (Grace Johnston). CC, of course, has never had a child and is not sure she likes this one, and the suspicion is mutual, so we know – we simply KNOW – that the Hershey character will die and that there will be a big heart-tugging scene at the end where CC and the kid decide to plug on through life side by side.

I have no doubt that the people who made this film approached it with great sincerity, but Beaches lacks the spontaneity of life. Beaches gives us nothing that can’t be spotted coming a mile down the road.

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