Films, TV, and Theatre

Beaches (1988)

Bitter-sweet weepie starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as two women from different backgrounds who enjoy a remarkable 30-year friendship after meeting as 11-year-old children
on the beach in Atlantic City.

Stars: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, John Heard, Spalding Gray
Director: Garry Marshall

TV Guide

This interminable melodrama purports to be a warm, humorous, and moving look at the relationship of two women over the course of 30 years. In reality BEACHES is a trite, maudlin, and terribly superficial effort of the sub-made-for-TV quality, an insult to anyone who has ever befriended another human being. The film depicts the unlikely friendship of a brassy, Jewish, Bronx-bred singer (Midler) and an icy, WASP-ish, San Francisco-bred socialite (Hershey) from their meeting in Atlantic City until the day the latter is buried, a victim of the kind of disease that seems only to afflict characters in movies like this.An ego trip for star-executive producer Midler, the film tells its story mostly in flashback and entirely from her character's point of view, while the successful songstress drives a rented car from LA to San Francisco to be with the dying Hershey. Director Marshall fails to bring anything remotely resembling inspiration or spontaneity to screenwriter Donoghue's terribly mundane disease-of-the-week script, leaving the viewer wondering why these two women would even speak to each other, let alone commit themselves to an apparently deeply emotional relationship. The problems they face are wholly synthetic, dealt with in a flash, and forgotten until the next minicrisis comes along. There is no sense of real joy, pain, or struggle here--merely a TV version that is only tangentially related to actual human experience.

Variety Staff

Story of this engaging tearjerker [from the novel by Iris Rainer Dart] is one of a profound friendship, from childhood to beyond the grave, between two wildly mismatched women, a lower-class Jew (Bette Midler) from the Bronx whose every breath is showbiz, and a San Francisco blueblood (Barbara Hershey) destined for a pampered but troubled life. Men, marriages and career vicissitudes come and go, but their bond ultimately cuts through it all.

Midler's strutting, egotistical, self-aware character gets off any number of zingers, but all in the context of a vulnerable woman who seems to accept, finally, that certain things in life, notably happiness in romance and family, are probably unreachable for her.

By way of contrast, Hershey plays her more emotionally untouchable part with an almost severe gravity. Hillary seems to have no real center, which in Hershey's interpretation could be part of the point, as nothing really works out for this woman who has everything, looks, intelligence, money - going for her.

Roger Ebert

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 C C Bloom (Bette Midler), a pop star, rehearsing for a big concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Then she gets an urgent message, 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, and 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 C C first meets a playmate named Hillary Whitney. C C is a trouper even at the age of 12, and we follow her through a show-biz 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. We're way ahead of the characters on the screen. We know 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 C C driving all night through the rain?

Hillary is played in the movie by Barbara Hershey, as a rich WASP to Midler's irreverent Jewish girl. Various men and marriages drift in and out of view, and we see John Heard as a hot young theater director and Spalding Grey as a supercilious doctor, but the important thing is that Hillary has a child (Grace Johnston). C C, 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 C C and the kid decide to plug on through life, side by side.

I have no doubt the people who made this film approached it with great sincerety, and that there were long conversations about what C C "would" do and how Hillary "would" act in such-and-such a situation. But "Beaches" lacks the spontaneity of life. This is a movie completely constructed out of other movies - out of cliches and archetypes that were old before most of the cast members were born. It is difficult for a filmgoer of reasonable intelligence to care about characters whose lives are re-enactments of cliches: If these people are as smart as they think, why can't they see that their lives are a bad B movie?

Maybe, in a strange way, one of the problems is Midler herself. She has a reputation for intelligence and irreverence that is mostly deserved, and so when we go to see her in a movie we don't expect her to be portraying a character completely dictated by convention. We expect a little spin on the ball. "Beaches" gives us nothing that can't be spotted coming a mile down the road.

Rita Kempley, Washington Post Staff Writer

No bikinis. No blankets. No bingo. "Beaches" is a bosom-buddy movie about a friendship that was destined to be -- like surf and turf, M&Ms, Laverne and Shirley, Lucy and Ethel, Cagney and Lacey.

As the buddy movie rule requires, it is a tale of abiding love between disparate souls, a friendship formed against the odds -- only here differences are overcome at Bloomingdale's, not in a squad car.

"Beaches" is a bicoastal crowd-pleaser, a tenderhearted, two-hanky melodrama brightened with Bette Midler's sass and sweetened with her songs. Barbara Hershey (formerly Barbara Seagull) lends class to the unlikely equation.

The movie follows CC Bloom (Midler) and Hillary Whitney (Hershey) from Atlantic City, where they meet as 11-year-olds, to the beach house on the Pacific, where they share their final sunset three decades later. In 1957, CC is a torch singer in embryo, a determined child chanteuse (the kid played with pizazz by Mayim Bialik) who already has an act in a cheesy vaudeville show. Her vamped version of "The Glory of Love," complete with bump, grind and feather boa, would do the Divine Miss M proud.

The finishing-schooled Hillary (young Marcie Leeds), a well-bred San Franciscan, is fascinated by this exotic girl whom she meets sneaking a cigarette under the pier. "Want a drag? It'll calm your nerves," says CC, who likewise is taken with Hillary. Blessed with a generous spirit, elegance and brunet beauty, Hillary is a miracle to CC. "Bread and butter," agree the perfect little odd couple, pledging their fidelity before going their separate ways.

The girls agree to write and theirs is a soul-baring correspondence that continues till they meet again more than a decade later. "Dear WASP queen, I have a can of Mace, a flat and a subscription to Variety," writes CC. "I guess I've made it." The pen pals become roommates when Hillary joins the New York staff of the ACLU. CC bleaches her hair, and Hillary dyes hers the same color. They giggle retroactively and bolster each other -- mostly CC. She's still a struggling actress, but she's as certain as a Busby Berkeley showgirl to make the footlight parade.

It's fortunate, not to mention expected, when along comes John Pierce (John Heard), the dishwater blond director of an experimental theater company, who serves as shared love interest and litmus test of the women's relationship. CC saw him first, but it's Hillary he wants. Citing a lack of character, Hillary apologizes when she takes her best friend's man. "Sexual attraction has nothing to do with character," scoffs CC, "unless you are Eleanor Roosevelt."

It's CC's humor, and Midler's brass, that save the episodic "Beaches" from overflowing with suds. CC's career rises and crashes, Hillary sells out and becomes a docent, husbands come, cads go, babies are born and diseases caught in a predictable screenplay by Mary Agnes Donoghue. An adaptation of the bestseller by Iris Rainer Dart, the story line is "Terms of Endearment" played again with so much zest and sentiment all is forgiven.

Unfortunately, it's got more endings than Beethoven's Ninth. Just when you think it's over, Midler comes back for an encore of "The Glory of Love." A charismatic warbler from her Sunkist-orange corona to the hem of her wine-velvet gown, Midler steals the show again. Even with new collagen-engorged lips, Hershey can't take a scene from her. She's a stretch of empty sand for Midler's bouncy beach ball.

Midler is not only the star but also a producer of "Beaches," the premier project of her All Girl Productions, which did hire Garry Marshall, a definite male, as the director. As the brains behind "Laverne and Shirley" and "Mork and Mindy," Marshall was a natural for a team effort. But "Beaches" most closely recalls Marshall's "Nothing in Common," a father-and-son tear-jerker that fit like a loose shirt.

Whatever its failings, "Beaches" speaks to women. It makes girlfriends think of calling girlfriends they haven't seen in 10, 20, 30 years. You can live without love, but "you've got to have friends," as Midler sings.

Sky Movies

There hasn't been a double-girl bawler like this since Old Acquaintance. Two 11-year-old girls from very different backgrounds meet accidentally on a holiday beach and form a bond of friendship that somehow holds, in spite of long periods apart and occasional blazing rows, down the years, through to a tremendous weepie climax you will need at least two handkerchiefs to even see. Mary Agnes Donoghue's script, as adept at funny one-liners - the film isn't all tears - as dramatic confrontations, pulls all the right emotional strings and Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, both first-rate, give it full value. Generally it's Hershey's character who has the crises in life and the ebullient Midler who's always on hand with a well-padded shoulder. Besides the stars, mention should be made of Garry Marshall's unobtrusive direction, a couple of bright and entertaining musical numbers, and little Mayim Bialik - who's an 11-year-old Midler to the life - and Marcie Leeds. Basically, though, this is just a terrific script that makes you realise the value of friendship. There aren't too many of those around these days.