Remaking a beloved film isn’t always the easiest task, but what happens when the original wasn’t all that good to begin with?
The 1988 theatrical release of “Beaches” was a lachrymose lovefest that baffled the critics who found its schmaltz and manipulative melodrama far too heavy-handed for consumption. That didn’t keep filmgoers from buying tickets or wringing out their tear ducts for this earnest story of lifelong friends. No matter how hard-hearted you were, it was clear that the Garry Marshall-directed film had its charms, not the least of which was Mayim Bialik and Bette Midler as the older and younger versions of the brassy C.C. Bloom, and the latter’s ability to sell “Wind Beneath My Wings” to anyone with a BFF.
Lifetime’s “Beaches” is fairly faithful to Marshall’s vision (even using one of the character names that he had changed from Iris Rainer Dart’s source novel) with a few necessary updates. The Jewish girl who dreams of stardom, C.C. Bloom (Idina Menzel), doesn’t befriend a WASP-y princess but instead strikes up a friendship with Hillary Whitney (Nia Long), a sheltered black girl from a prominent family with a law practice. We also see the friends using AOL Instant Messenger instead of snail mail for their correspondence, and there’s only one divorce between the friends instead of two, which is reflective of a time that doesn’t place as much importance on marriage.
But the reboot is so similar, in fact, that it’s a letdown, since it doesn’t offer up any surprises, much less its own identity. With Allison Anders at the helm, we expected something far more nuanced or at least a rock ‘n’ roll vibe. That said, a couple of Menzel’s musical interludes later in the movie are where “Beaches” has the most success at drawing out the emotion. Clearly the Broadway star was brought on for her vocal talents, and the soaring ballads fit nicely within her tonal repertoire.
Where this version falls short is precisely that: It’s short. The runtime has been reduced by half an hour from the ‘80s film, and as a result, essential parts of the friendship and character-building have gotten short shrift. How C.C. and Hillary meet and maintain their childhood friendship is so truncated and rushed, it plays like an episodic exposition dump. Within 15 minutes, they’ve met as kids (C.C. was singing “Glory of Love,” natch), kept in touch through school, graduated college and then reunited in their 20s. Their seeming devotion to each other simply isn’t earned once they move into the adult portion of their friendship in person.
Menzel and Long have some chemistry as the adult friends, and the story picks up slightly once they’ve been reunited. Again, the amount of tribulations thrown at them in such a limited time doesn’t leave space for a deeper connection with the characters. Unfortunately, this is essential when it comes to a two-hander, especially given the inevitable ending that we’ll keep unspoiled for those unfamiliar with the plot.
This briefer format sadly exacerbates a shortcoming from the original film as well. While it’s true that Hillary’s character has always been painted as a bit of a milquetoast, especially in comparison to the technicolor C.C., she could have been fleshed out in a far more interesting way to explain why the two friends balance each other. Hillary is a woman who is so passionate about civil rights, she’ll do pro bono work for needy clients, yet we rarely see her practicing law at all. Other than a phone call (that’s interrupted) and seeing her walk around in suits, Hillary could’ve been an tax accountant for all the detail we’re given. In contrast, we know all about C.C.’s showbiz highs and lows, from her voiceovers and ridiculous TV show to her theatrical gigs and recording sessions. But even with all that attention, there are moments when we can’t really connect the dots as to how she arrived at one job from another.
“Beaches” does its best by showcasing a modern friendship between two women, and that is worth acknowledging for its positive message. Unfortunately, the hurried pacing was a disservice to Anders, Menzel and Long, and a waste of their talents. For a strong female friendship film, stick with the original, or perhaps try “Me Without You,” “Ghost World,” “Thelma & Louise,” or “Bridesmaids.”