November 30, 1991
Bette Midler arrived on this earth about four decades too late â€” the first 20 minutes of “For the Boys” proves that once and for all. AsÂ Dixie Leonard, a bawdy big-band singer who rises to fame with an old show biz song-and-dance man named Eddie Sparks (James Caan), sheÂ has the exuberant, larger-than-life personality of a bygone era. One look at her and you’re certain that she was born to be painted on the nose of a bomber.
The dazzling performer we see inthese opening moments is completely without equal. Performing “Stuff Like That There” before a crowd of entertainment-hungry World War II airmen, she emits a transcendental radiance. Her whole personality â€” the naughty sexuality, the beaming, big-toothed generosity and twinkling charm â€” is fully on display, and the occasion is one for genuine celebration. The critic Kenneth Tynan once called stars in her class “high-definition performers,” and for an instant during these blissful early scenes’, we’re giddy with anticipation.
Unfortunately, this momentary’ exhilaration quickly gives way to the darkest disappointment. And the betrayal of our expectations – our hopes that, at last, Midler has found her proper showcase â€” turns first to indifference and, later, to bitter impatience. What we getÂ from Midler and her director, MarkRydell, is the same shameless schmaltz we got in “Beaches” and “Stella.”
The real shame of “For the Boys,” though, is just how recklessly Midler squanders her own abundant talents. And since it’s her company that produced the film; the blame, at least in large part^has to fall on her shoulders. What “For the Boys” represents is a waste of a great natural resource.
Maybe we should print up bumper stickers: Free Bette Midler â€” from herself.