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
on the beach in Atlantic City.
Stars: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, John Heard, Spalding Gray
Director: Garry Marshall
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.