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"Beaches'
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"Beaches'

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Film: "Beaches"

Stars: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey and John Heard

Theaters: Fox and Woodland Hills theaters

Rating: PG-13 (language)

Quality:Three stars(on a scale of zero to five stars)

"Beaches" reminds us again what a terrific entertainer

Bette Midler is, both as an actress and a singer.

She's definitely the star of this picture, her first dramatic

role since "The Rose." As with that film, there are times

in "Beaches" when Midler comes close to overpowering the

entire movie.

The picture's other big star, Barbara Hershey - who plays

the whitebread socialite Hillary Whitney Essex opposite

Midler's brassy, ethnic CC Bloom - pales like her character

in the bright light of Midler's performance.

"Beaches" is the story of a life-long friendship between

two very different women. Hillary and CC meet on the beach

at Atlantic City as youngsters (played with uncanny mimicry

by Marcie Leeds and Mayim Bialik). The two quickly strike

up a friendship that lasts through all the ups and downs,

successes and failures, joys and sorrows of their lives.

Based loosely on the novel by Iris Rainer Dart, the story

is cast in a series of flashbacks that jump from this charming

beginning to adulthood through a running exchange of letters

that Hillary and CC write over the years. (Hillary lives

in San Francisco; CC grows up in Brooklyn.)

Midler and Hershey enter the picture together when Hillary

leaves her smotheringly conservative family after college

and moves to New York to find her own direction in life.

For a time, Hillary and CC live together in a rundown, cold-water

flat and struggle to establish their careers - Hillary as

a legal-aid attorney, CC as a cabaret singer and actress.

It's a joyful time for the two, and their hardships cement

their friendship.

But eventually, Hillary must return to California to care

for her sick father. There, she meets an up-and-coming young

attorney, gets married and settles down to a prim and proper

domestic life.

Meanwhile, CC struggles on with her career and gets her

big break in a risque Broadway musical that makes her a

big star.

Through it all, the two continue to exchange letters that

detail events in their lives and mark the passing of time.

This shorthand technique is necessary, but it often leaves

you feeling that you're skimming along the surface of the

story without getting enough of the substance. The flashback

structure of Mary Agnes Donoghue's screenplay - with scenes

running through CC's mind as she races to Hillary's aid

in a crisis - further muddles the action.

Eventually, the story settles into a melodramatic mode

reminisicent of "Terms of Endearment," and that's where

it really begins to go wrong. With a lighter touch, it might

have worked. But director Garry Marshall ("Overboard"

and TV's "Happy Days") drags out the story's teary closing

to excruciating excess. It brings the whole movie down a

notch or two.

Nonetheless, Midler's performance is an event in itself.

The character here suits her to a T, and she's given five

musical numbers to perform - some of which are the film's

highlights.

Hershey's role is understated to the point of transparency.

Whether she's overshadowed by Midler or is simply reflecting

the paleness of poor Hillary, it's hard to say. But generally,

you expect Hershey's presence on the screen to have more

impact.

Cheers for the strong performances of Lainie Kazan, as

CC's comically overwhelmed mother, John Heard, as the shared

love interest of both CC and Hillary, Spalding Gray, as

CC's jilted fiance, and, as mentioned earlier, Leeds and

Bialik, as astounding miniature of the adult stars.

"Beaches," despite its flaws, delivers an appealing message

on the enduring quality of friendship. That, plus Midler's

undeniable charisma, is enough to allow audiences to get

caught up in the wave of good feelings that this movie generates.

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