Catching Up: “Beaches (1988)”

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For some films, if at first you don’t succeed, build a cult following. It’s really the only way to endure and become something other than an obscure but forgotten film. It’s how we build pop culture and iconic films and/or moments, not to mention usher in so many references to it over time. The slight downside, which seems surprising with such a well-known film, is the reputation it’s garnered. Sometimes reputations can be deceiving.

The Touchstone Pictures film “Beaches”, based on the novel of the same name by Iris Rainer Dart, somehow lulled me into a false sense of enjoyment, and that was before I pushed play. Just because a film is somehow highly regarded, but not in the traditional and best way, doesn’t mean that it’ll be worth all that much. Of course, throw in my favorite element known as time, and you’ve got yourself what amounts to a bag of jellybeans. It really could go either way.

Make ‘Em Laugh
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Not helping with finding the good and entertaining in this, is the fact that this film was funnier than it should’ve been. Yes, that’s weird as most wouldn’t see that as a bad thing, but I didn’t go in expecting to laugh as much as I did. Of course, I also didn’t expect to groan and roll my eyes, even if it was only a few times. I expected something a bit sadder, more melodramatic and sappy, of which this film had plenty of, but not enough to make it so bad it’s good, like some sort of Lifetime Original Movie. Isn’t that ironic?

No, this film seemed to be mostly funny by accident, and that’s seldom a good thing. It should’ve had a bit more organic drama. Mostly this humor came from the surprisingly bad performances. I’m surprised it didn’t get nominated for a Golden Raspberry or two. I just couldn’t take these women seriously, which has another underlying reason as well. No matter what they were going through, it never hit the right level of emotion it should’ve. Granted, I will admit that this film did manage to hit some deliberate comedic strides as well. However, I can’t say if it outweighed the awfulness that was encountered elsewhere. I’d say too, that if it weren’t for these intentional comedic moments, that also had me laughing, but more like designed, I would’ve turned this film off. If not that, then I most certainly would’ve stopped paying as much attention as I did. Perhaps it’s the fact that there was so much sarcasm bouncing all around, as well as the fact that Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey could somehow deliver it in a witty banter like way. Midler’s sarcasm did help me to like her, which is good considering just about everything else about her character was annoying. Granted, annoying might be better than the somewhat bland idea of a living person that Hershey offered up.

Friends ‘Til The End
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For a film with a main focus of detailing a 30 year friendship between two women, it really didn’t do all that much. I wasn’t inspired. I wasn’t moved. I wasn’t, well, anything other than bored. I didn’t buy it the majority of the time. If anything disappointed me the most about this film, it’s this fact. I was expecting something great. And while I’m obviously limited in understanding a female friendship, such as the one attempted and shown, I feel that it seriously lacked a lot of emotional depth. Sure there were moments of emotion, sad and happy, but things never truly progressed beyond a superficial capacity. I bought into more of the fights they had, but that’s not all that helpful or great when the rest of the emotional components are missing.

So, now all that’s left is trying to figure out why that was. One reason for me lies in the mediocre performances. Because of flimsy performances I had nothing, even in the slightest way, to connect with. As I sat watching the film, I was trying to figure out why scenes between Hershey and Midler seemed dull and boring. Of course, chemistry could have something to do with this as well. Even with films that are supposed to be about decade’s long friendships, there still needs to be chemistry that shows the characters truly mean something to each other. It bypasses believability, which makes it even harder and more important to get right. Or, perhaps something about the characters, particularly Hershey’s, that just didn’t come across as intended. She never did seem to change all that much. Midler changed a bit, but not Hershey. This could possibly explain my lack of a reaction by film’s end. That and I’d clearly figured out how this film would end, even before putting in the VHS and pressing play. I wasn’t even misty eyed. Some films can only try, and sometimes that’s enough. This is most definitely not that film.

Age Isn’t Always Just A Number
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Or, it could be the fault of time. Time has a way of showing up and ruining films I’m hoping to enjoy. This film is a little over 28 years old. That’s pretty damn old. Not as old as most, but when you think about the tearjerker sub-genre this film falls into, it’s quite old. Some might say dated. It’s not just the VHS quality that says so, but everything that brings this particular world to life. The costumes, sets, locations, etc., were pretty awful to look at. They were definite giveaways of the various time periods, and the film’s overall production period. I’d say even the overall look, when it came to costumes, was noticeably bad. A few major instances that didn’t help with this idea, or the general watching of the film, were when Midler’s character is performing in some sort of stage production. The costumes she sported were atrocious! I was embarrassed for her and embarrassed by the film. That’s not something I think I’ve ever thought before. It may have all been dictated by the production in the film, but it still was tough to look at.

I can’t help but think that perhaps a problem lies within the style of acting. It just wasn’t the level we see today. Not even close. I think to how films from the ’60 and ’70, probably many from the previous decades, too, don’t always amaze me with the performances. Some of these films may have even gone on to be award winning films, but there’s just been too much time and improvements in the craft of acting.

Another reason, which could also explain the acting itself, is the script and source material. Almost 30 years have passed, and we’ve seen it time and again. Sometimes just as bad as this film, a bit better or other times really well executed. Everything about the general premise just said it was going to be one big melodrama with a predictable ending. You don’t spend two hours in a film, charting three decades, and not have some sort of tragic outcome befall the characters at the end of the film. Now, maybe that’s a bit unfair, but I’ve yet to discover a film such as this one, that didn’t fall into these cliché storytelling methods. Sometimes the problem with creating a good film adaptation is the book itself. You can only work with what you’ve got.

All that now having been said, I can’t believe I’m about to write words I seldom say or type. I’m surprisingly excited for the remake. Mainly as I’m hoping it’ll provide me with stronger performances and better chemistry between the two leads. With those two elements, even with a blah script, I may genuinely grow and care about what happens to these women. By the time the TV movie ends, I may be teary eyed. A single tear could roll down my cheek. It’s a somewhat silly hope to have, but when forming my expectations and comparing them to this film, I’m quite confident they aren’t misplaced or too high.

Original Release Date: Dec. 21, 1988

Director: Garry Marshall

Writer Mary Agnes Donoghue

Starring: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, John Heard, Spalding Gray, James Read and Lainie Kazan

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