Like many of you, I read the best-selling novel BEACHES by Iris Rainer Dart before seeing the Gary Marshall film. The year was 1987 and I had just gotten my first apartment near the gay village, and to quote Bette Davis in BEYOND THE FOREST (1949), what a dump it was. No style no natural light just two square rooms. BUT it was my dump and the best part was I could bring back as many guys as I wanted. Not that I was the slut of all time but like many healthy gay men in their 20s I had a high libido. I didn’t have the luxury to have a serious boyfriend then (that would come five years later) so I loved playing the field. But back to BEACHES. Just like the novel, the film caught the essence of what real friendship is all about, thanks mostly to screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue’s faithful adaptation which helped the leading ladies give riveting performances. Of course I was already a fan of Bette Midler. How could you not be? She had been on our side for as long as I can remember, and for that we’ll forever be grateful. I had caught many of her comedies on screen, her career being on an upswing since DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS in 1982. But it wasn’t until BEACHES that I realized that she really could play serious too (by then, I had never seen 1979 THE ROSE for which she was nominated for an Oscar).
But BEACHES is more than just a drama. There are many moments of hilarity (as expected since it is a Midler film). But because of the subject matter (death and friendship) most of the wisecracks are played down. Midler plays CC Bloom, the extraverted singing sensation from the Bronx who makes it big but crashes as hard throughout 30 odd years. Early on as a young girl (played by BLOSSOM and THE BIG BANG THEORY Mayim Bialik) she meets demure Hillary Whitney, also a kid but from the right side of the track. Together they embark on an unlikely friendship that will endure the test of time. Then one of them is diagnosed with a deadly heart disease and, well, you probably know the rest. But for those who have yet to discover the film, trust me, you are in for a swell time. Yes it’s a tad too melodramatic and yes Midler is often at the vocals (some à la MTV), but the film works 100% for the simple fact that both characters are very much appealing.
Although it is clearly a Midler vehicle (since it’s her own company that produces the film), we can’t overlook the fabulous job Barbara Hershey does as CC’s BFF. Her quiet but classy Hillary is the perfect antipode to CC’s wild antics. She not only plays it with class but adds a dose of insecurity and frivolity just right for the character. And I bet anyone to not feel sorry for her when she, alone at the public library, discovers the truth about her health. Sure, the Midler tune helps the scene a great deal, but I’m sure Hershey would have nailed it without. Heck, play the scene with no sound and you’ll see what I mean. Truth be told, I was a tad sceptic when I found out she was going to share the screen with Midler. I always figured her to be too “serious” an actress to be caught in this type of film. But boy was I wrong. It clearly looks like she’s having the time of her life.
I went to the first screening in December of ’88 then again the next day (right before Christmas Eve’s dinner). That just how wonderful I thought the film was overall. Today? It still holds up. Quite well, I might add. Sure it’s a bit excessive at times. Many times if I’m being real honest, but I wouldn’t change a thing. That’s melodrama for you. I’m sure it wouldn’t be as much fun if played otherwise (imagine PEYTON PLACE or VALLEY OF THE DOLLS without the camp). I certainly wouldn’t rave about it in this great blog of mine. So here’s to you, Midler, Hershey and Marshall, for bringing to the big screen one of the best soapy pieces of the late ‘80s. May you return in full force real soon. Just so you know, the author did write a follow-up called I’LL BE THERE if you’re ever in the mood for a sequel. Besides, the Divine Miss M already has a name for it (via Twitter): BEACHES 2: THE BEACH IS BACK. I’m game. Are you?
Until next post—Martin