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
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
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
Meanwhile, CC struggles on with her career and gets her
big break in a risque Broadway musical that makes her a
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
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
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.