Friends to the end…
Two 11-year-old girls meet on a beach becoming firm friends for 30 years through good and bad times.
BEACHES (1988) – Official Trailer, xirstom1 and photos from Buena Vista Pictures
If you had to choose a film about female friendship, the film I’m about to review Beaches (1988) is usually mentioned. Combine this genre with a film that makes you sob, then this film’s probably number 1 or number 2, along with Terms of Endearment (1983) or Steel Magnolias (1989). But I’m not going to tell you why I cried – and I did – with these films, but would advise you to get the tissues handy should you need them. As I would with this film. And The Great Gatsby (1983). And Star Wars Force Awakens (2016). I could go on.. and on…
The film Beaches is a Garry Marshall directed drama. Bette Midler is CC Bloom, who we meet as a middle-aged famous singer playing at the Hollywood Bowl in LA. While rehearsing for her big concert she gets a note from a friend, and she literally drops everything and legs it to the airport to visit her. All flights have been cancelled, which frustrates her like crazy and as the storm comes, she hires a car.. we then flash backwards to 1958 to find the reasons for this panic.
In 1958, we are introduced to the young 11-year-old CC Bloom, who meets Hillary Witney – also 11 – crying on a beach boardwalk having lost her way back to her hotel. The girls are polar opposites, Hillary is a pretty, quiet, rich brunette and comes from a privileged family in San Francisco and Cecilia (C.C.) from the Bronx is a brash, hot-tempered, feisty redhead and she smokes! It turns out she’s got an audition for a show and she’s got a helluva voice and stage presence.
So Hillary tags along to the audition and is awestruck – as we are – seeing her new friend on stage. Here C.C. is played by Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory (2006-16). And spookily saw her co-star, Johnny Galecki of this comedy series, also as an 80s child actor in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) recently with Darlin Husband recognising him as Rusty. But that’s not important right now.
Bialik is just how you would imagine a young Bette Midler to be, the looks, the hair and the performance are so uncannily similar you could have thought it was filmed early on in Bette’s life. In comparison, Marcie Leeds playing Hillary could be interchanged to a pre-Maria’s arrival Sound of Music (1965) daughter Brigitta and you wouldn’t notice. Not that she’s bad, just her character is less loud and in your face (in a good way) than her fellow child co-star’s character in this movie.
The girls then write to each other over the years, their letters are first read by the child actors then replaced by the more familiar voices of actresses Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. As they grow up. Hillary (Hershey) studies at Stanford and becomes a human rights lawyer. C.C. (Midler) is still a struggling actress and singer and after a number of failed auditions gets a gig in an unpopular jazz club in New York. Hillary arrives at the club having left her family and moves in with C.C.
After a few girly bonding scenes, C.C. takes a kissagram job and meets the birthday boy, John (John Heard) dressed as a bunny rabbit (and not the Hugh Hefner bunny girl, more Bugs Bunny). As you do. Coincidentally he is the artistic director of the Falcon Players, a theatre group and asks her to audition taken by her singing voice. C.C. appears quite smitten by him, however on his meeting with Hillary minutes later he is instantly captivated by the brunette.
On the opening night of her show, the after-show party is held with John and Hillary becoming closer, and they sleep together. C.C is understandably upset with her friend. However, Hillary returns to San Francisco to look after her ailing father and meets a lawyer Michael, John asks after her and he spends more time with C.C. and they become closer. Hillary writes to her saying she’s married Michael and then John and C.C. get married too… with a nice wee cameo from a Garry Marshall favourite, as the Judge …
This story is written beautifully and it was lovely to meet the characters as children, and you could easily see their character traits developing as they grow into their adult counterparts. Using a spoken commentary with the girl’s letters over a montage was an effective, original and beautiful way of passing time as the characters grew up.
The film was almost written in acts with Midler singing the soundtrack in singing performances almost in-between scenes from the title track of Under the Boardwalk. These songs broke the film up well and also gave you a chance to go to the loo (sorry Bette!). However, all the songs showed Midler’s singing range tremendously.
When the girls were reunited, this was done realistically with a will they be friends after all this time moment. It was great to see them continue their friendship sharing an apartment – and not so great – though more believable – when they later shared a love interest.
Heard playing the girls’ joint love interest was quite a sweet character, and I felt he was the only character that C.C. felt more vulnerable with. As he told her he loved her, she immediately looked for some sort of reassurance that he wasn’t in love with Hillary before dragging him up the aisle by asking him indirectly about this.
Hershey’s character was also sweet with him, but they seemed a more believable relationship until C.C.’S vulnerability was seen, making her a more likeable character. It was great and true to life, that the girls would fall out over a man and be honest who hasn’t had a Beaches moment with a friend in their lives.
I loved seeing James Read as Michael Essex, Hillary’s husband as I had, had a bit of a crush on him as George Hazard in the North and South (1985) mini-series. So felt he was a bit underused and almost like they threw Hershey a love scene with a hottie as she hadn’t had a romantic scene with a love interest yet. If so, it was a win for both of us then!
As the rest of the film progressed, after the girls got married it was lovely to see Hillary and C.C.’s relationship’s ups and downs. It all turned a bit like a less comedic more tragic episode of The Golden Girls (1985-92) crossed with a prime time soap – but fewer montages – as the characters got niggly with each other and fell out and became friends again and shared a number of happy moments before the final bombshell.
In this latter part of the film, more dramatic acting and less singing were involved, Hershey finally got her chance to shine and was amazing throughout these scenes – with Midler in a more supportive role this time – and made her character Hillary much, much more than the wind beneath C.C.’s wings.
Weeper Rating: /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon 2016, No 27
This Beaches review was submitted as a Main Feature review, for the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon run by Moon in Gemini. This film also features in a wee review in the Garry Marshall tribute post. There are other reviews with Hershey in With Six you Get Egg Roll and Black Swan. John Heard appears in Awakenings and has a tribute HERE. James Read starred in Hotel and Fantasy Island.