Appellate Judge Tom Becker is putting in for shore leave.
Some friendships last forever.
Some movies seem to last forever, too.
Garry Marshall's ode to estrogen arrives on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
Famous and flamboyant singer CC Bloom (Bette Midler, The Rose) is getting ready for a show at the Hollywood Bowl when she gets a message. She flees the venue and heads to the airport. Thanks to a storm, she can't get a flight to San Francisco, so she rents a car and drives off.
As she plows through the driving rain, CC thinks back on her friendship with the wealthy and beautiful Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey, Black Swan).
The two met at the beach when they were just tykes—CC (Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory) then a budding entertainer, and Hillary (Marcie Leeds, Near Dark) a sheltered rich girl. The years pass, the girls grow into exactly the kind of women their childhood personae suggested they would, and their friendship endures—until the tragedy sledgehammeredly suggested by CC's late-night ride and tearful recollections rears its poorly-coiffed head.
Beaches is one of the most amorphous movies I've ever seen. Trying to warm up to it is like trying to grasp Jell-O in your fist. Globs of stuff are just thrown on the screen in an attempt to tell about these two lives and how they impact each other, but most of what we discover is just told to us in clunky dialogue.
The framing device—CC's misty, watercolored memories—allows director Garry Marshall to jump all over the place telling this tale of everlasting friendship, offering the highlights, lowlights, Northern Lights, and broken heart for every light on Broadway lights, but the whole thing just comes off as Lifetime Lite. Instead of giving us even a moderately depthed examination on friendships and the bonds between people, particularly women, Marshall and screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue offer up a greatest hits reel that leaves no cliché unturned. It's artificial and pandering; the audience isn't given people and situations that they might recognize from their lives, but characters and plot points that they've seen in soap operas.
The audience is supposed to feel the indelible connection between the two women, but it's just not there. A big part of it is that they're drawn in such stark and obvious ways: Hillary is serious and practical to the point of being dour, and CC is as bombastic and obnoxious as a Halloween parade. There's no shading, no character revelations or surprises, and nothing genuine about these two.
Another problem is that Midler and Hershey have little chemistry, though even if they did, these roles were not written in a way that they could show it. CC and Hillary tolerate each other, apparently because no one else will; in fact, CC's grating and needy personality becomes a plot point, accentuated by that ode to supplication, "Wind Beneath My Wings," which went on to become a big hit for Midler. That neither woman develops a lasting relationship with anyone else—they have no other friends, even when they're apart, and the men are merely dull and disingenuous props—speaks more to the unappealing nature of the characters than to any sense that they somehow complement each other.
The film is rife with what should be Big Dramatic Moments—Unrequited love! Requited love! Betrayal! Childbirth! Failure! Success! Illness! Death! Death! Death!—but it's so formulaic that these have little impact. There's even a tepid falling out scene; instead of going at each other like Snoopy and the Red Baron (I can fly higher than a beagle!)—adversaries with a history who can share a root beer and talk about old times—CC and Hillary take a few flaccid jabs at each other during a shopping trip and then don't speak for a couple of years, only coming together again after Hillary's maid happens to catch a newspaper ad for CC's latest singing gig. During this time, CC has gone from being a big star in some moderately smutty Broadway revue to being a has-been, though we're never really sure why; details of her fall from grace, which would have been interesting, are completely absent.
Hershey's a good actress stuck in a thankless role, Hillary being a passive, one-note character. Midler's the bigger problem. The patented wise-cracking, irreverent diva persona is front and center, but it lacks luster; she comes across like a third-rate Midler impersonator. The randy quips and "outrageous" moments seem forced and over-scripted. Since CC's a musical theater actress, Marshall gives Midler a couple of campy production numbers, but these scenes are just lame. It's a little unfathomable that having Midler do her thing in a made-for-Midler part could end up so flat and uninvolving, but that's Beaches.
The film runs 123 minutes, which is at least half an hour too long. It takes place over a 30-year period, but you wouldn't know it. Marshall doesn't take advantage of changing times by representing them through fashions or attitudes; the whole thing seems to play out in a vacuum. You'd think that costumes and sets might be called upon to represent different decades, but the contemporary scenes look no different from the past scenes, save for a few shots of Ford Thunderbirds.
Beaches (Blu-ray) comes to us courtesy of Touchstone. The 1.85:1/1080p image is reasonable, but not great. There's little depth, and while we get some occasionally vivid colors, the whole thing looks a bit dim and tired. It's better than what you'd find on a standard DVD, but not by a whole lot. The DTS-HD surround track doesn't have a whole lot to do. It gets a bit of a workout during Midler's musical numbers, but beyond that, Beaches isn't exactly a marvel of sound design; the track does its job.
Supplements are all ports from a Special Edition DVD release a few years ago: a commentary by Marshall, a look back with Bialik, a music video for "Wind Beneath My Wings," a funny bloopers reel, Hershey's screen test, and the trailer.
Beaches might be the ultimate chick flick, but even in that comparatively undemanding realm, this is a pretty lackluster effort. So calculated and by-the-numbers that it's almost condescending, this one's for die-hard genre fans only.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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