In 10 Words or Less
Bette Midler makes half a great Lifetime movie
I fully admit, that before being handed my copy of Beaches that my knowledge of the movie consisted solely of the following:
A) Better Midler was in it.
B) Her song "Wind Beneath My Wings" was on the soundtrack.
C) It was a chick flick.
D) I didn't want to watch it.
But, as all of your humble reviewers know well, you don't just review what you want to review. That's what keeps us honest and on the bad side of studio publicists. And that's why the Special Edition of Beaches currently sits spinning in my DVD player. So I cleansed my palate with a game of NHL 2005, (have to boost the testosterone, you know) and started in on the film.
It started out unlike the way I thought, establishing the foundation of the friendship between C.C. Bloom (Miyam Bialik, "Blossom") and Hillary Whitney (Marcie Leeds), a street-smart Atlantic City kid and an upper-crust child. Meeting under the boardwalk, they find they are kindred spirits of sorts, and so starts a relationship that goes on for years through letter writing, until they are both young adults (now portrayed by Midler and Barbara Hershey) and finally meet again, and find their friendship is the only constant in their lives. The prologue, with brilliant work by Bialik and Lainie Kazan as her mother, gives the film a smart-aleck attitude that helps overcome the more heartstring-pulling moments...for the most part.
From there on out, the two women find life to be a series of struggles, with them switching places, as C.C.'s life explodes into mega-success, and Hillary hits roadblock after roadblock. Through it all, they rely on their friendship to carry them through the challenges that love, marriage and family bring. The friendship is tested often, especially by the dreaded presence of men, but it's hard to believe that anyone in the audience has a doubt about what will happen in the end. It risks drifting into melodrama, but the irreverent presence of Midler keeps the movie on an even keel until the plot becomes too heavy to maintain buoyancy.
Using C.C. and Hillary's flashback correspondence as the main method of progressing the story, along with an in-the-now framing device, the movie spans 30 years in two hours, which by any measure is moving at lightspeed. There are some problems with moving the story so quickly, in that the plot can seem unnaturally motivated. But within the structure of the plot, there's no other way the film could have advanced the story. By compressing the lives of these two women, the parallels between them are made obvious and meaningful.
While the story of these two women is the core of the film, Midler's musical moments are some of the most entertaining portions of the film. From her character's start as a jazz singer to her award-winning performances, she gets the opportunity to show off her impressive range as a vocalist. I've always considered Midler to be good, based on her roles in Ruthless People and Outrageous Fortune, but now I truly know why she gets the respect she receives. Singing ability like hers and an amazing comic wit make her a true star.
At approximately the halfway point, the movie loses its sense of humor and becomes the soap opera C.C. speaks bad about at the time of the change. Life itself is too much for the girls, and the whole film becomes exactly what the first half seemed to strive to avoid. Ironically, it's that turn-around second half that has earned the film its fan base and reputation.
Touchstone has released a special-edition DVD of Beaches, after putting a bare-bones edition on the market in August of 2004. Delivered on one disc, packed in a standard keepcase (with no insert), the DVD has well-designed, very classy and appropriate animated menus, based around a beach scene. Options include play, bonus features, scene selection and set-up. The scene selection menus are similarly well done, with big still previews of each chapter. Language options include English and French, while subtitles are available in French, and closed captioning in English.
The video quality is none too impressive on this new release, though the image was upgraded to anamorphic widescreen from the original letterboxed DVD. Fine detail is rarely apparent and colors lean toward red, that is, when they aren't fading in and out. The amount of grain and noise in the transfer is also unacceptable. The entire film is soft, there's an oddly high amount of dirt and damage to the print and edge enhancement usage is rampant. For a special edition disc, this is a rather shoddy presentation.
Keeping pace with the video, the Dolby 5.1 audio mix is mostly inactive, sticking front and center for the entire movie. Only the songs show any power, despite dialogue performances that hardly stay flat. Of course, Beaches doesn't require the kind of mixing that Jurassic Park needed, but some more dynamic mixing on the music would have been nice.
The big extra here is a feature-length audio commentary by director Garry Marshall. The man behind some of the biggest sitcoms ever, as well as most of the best "chick flicks," Marshall's commentaries are like sitting at your grandfather's feet and listening to him tell a story. There's some good detail shared here and Marshall shares it in usual entertaining style.
Fresh off her appearances on "Fat Actress," Miyam Bialik gets some primo screen time in "Miyam Remembers Beaches", sitting down to talk about her experiences in making the film. The 12-minute featurette covers her role in quite some depth, and is an interesting look at what being a child actor is like. It's followed by an extremely short clip from "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" retrospective, which put "Wind Beneath My Wings" at No. 44.
Midler's Grammy-winning hit gets a longer look with the song's music video, which was shot in artistic black and white. The song is a classic pop ballad, though the video is a bit bland, even by ballad standards. It's still a nice addition to the disc.
A few other bits and pieces of Beaches memories are included to round out the package. Hershey's screen tests with Midler are interesting to see, as you can get an idea about why she was chosen to star as Hillary, but nothing you'll watch again. A seven-minute faux trailer, made from blooper reel footage for the film's wrap party, is included as well. The main thing you can take from this item is just how filthy Midler's mouth really is. It's worth a look as there are some real laughs. There's also the film's theatrical trailer, which stands as an example of how far the art of previews has come.
The Bottom Line
Beaches is a true classic at this point, the kind of weepy movie a gal likes to curl up with on a rainy Sunday for the stereotypical "good cry." It's hardly worth debating the quality of the filmmaking, as it's secondary to the emotions involved for fans of this flick. The DVD has a nice assortment of extras, but the quality of the audio/video presentation is a disappointment. If you don't own it and want to, pick this one over the bare bones edition, if only for Marshall's commentary and the anamorphic transfer. An upgrade could be recommended as well if you're a fan. But for the uninitiated, a rental should suffice.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.