Beaches: Special Edition (1988)

Dan Zak

Beaches is the Goliath of those epic '80s melodramas, squashing patience and dignity and tact.

Beaches: Special Edition

Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, John Heard
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Buena Vista
First date: 1988
US DVD Release Date: 2005-04-26
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"Tell me the truth," Bette Midler implores. "Do you think I'm really and truly talented, or just moderately talented?"

Theoretically, Bette is playing red-haired diva CC Bloom when she asks this a half hour into Beaches. But Midler is also playing herself, the broad who's made this case a few times before, as in: "Ain't I something? I can put the melody in melodrama. 'Did I ever tell you you're my heeeeeero?'" Beaches, despite its reputation as the Hindenberg of tearjerkers, is another of Midler's many auditions for the role of American superstar. She sings, she cries, she does both at the same time.

But she did not see fit to participate in the Special Edition DVD, now available after years of picketing by Beaches groupies like myself (our hunger strikes outside the Touchstone offices were not for naught). The Divine Miss M is present only in the blooper reel and "Wind Beneath My Wings" music video. No "Bette Remembers" and no audio commentary either, though the bloopers suggest why. Most of Bette's outtakes end with her bellowing, "Where's the fucking cue card?" and "What the fuck am I saying?" and "I hate my life."

I hate my life too, after spending many hours with the Special Edition of Beaches. The movie itself, for those of you who dodged the bullet in 1988, is about two 11-year-old girls who meet in Atlantic City. One's a precocious fireball of tap-dancing talent, the other is a dainty debutante-in-training. They part ways, write to each other, and meet up again when they're in their 20s. The friendship lasts through marriages, divorces, career highs and lows, fights, and long distances, until one of them gets gravely ill and has one last summer to spend at the beach house with her young daughter and... Hold on, I've got something in my eye.

Sorry, it was a shard of Terms of Endearment.

Beaches is the Goliath of those epic '80s melodramas, squashing patience and dignity and tact. Still, the new DVD has its moments. The blooper reel -- which must have been slipped in by some studio wiseguy -- strips away the artifice, exposing a rather goofy shoot. The good takes involve Midler, who is quick to torpedo a teary scene when a line goes wrong. On an umpteenth take of a phone conversation with Hershey, Midler says into the receiver, "What am I doing? Oh, I'm doing different versions of the same scene. What are you doing? You're dying? Gee, you're having more fun than me."

If Midler seems fine with making fun of herself, the same cannot be said for Mayim Bialik. Most famous as the title character on Blossom, she played the young Midler and is the only cast member who participated in the DVD. "Mayim Remembers Beaches" is that retrospective Bette should've done, and it goes on for an excruciating 12 minutes. Bialik sits in a director's chair and fondly recalls how Beaches premiered the same weekend as her bat mitzvah. What a heady time it was. We learn a host of 17-year-old behind-the-scenes secrets. For example, Bialik didn't light her own cigarettes in the opening boardwalk scene. She also didn't do her own singing as the young CC. Did she do her own acting? She skirts the issue. At the end, she sighs, "Beaches completely transformed my life." Here, Mayim, you can have my hanky.

Surprisingly, director Garry Marshall's audio commentary is a welcome distraction from the histrionics. "Oh my goodness, it's Beaches!" he brays as soon as the movie starts. "I'm gonna start crying already." He is at once sincere about his affection for the film and aware of its status as a shameless blubberfest. "Girls," he asserts, "Somehow they say the worst things to each other and an hour later they go shopping... That's why I took the job, to examine a girls' friendship." Too bad the examination, at 123 minutes, turns into a never-ending dissertation.

Hmm, what else? It must have been lonely in my shaaadow... oh, yes. The DVD's main menu is pretty cool. Click on "Special Features" and the image slides down the beach to the next menu as seagulls yap. Somewhere someone plays solo piano. In fact, if you have no use for the movie itself, you can just leave the menu on and fill your home with the sound of surf, piano, and bittersweetness. You're everything, everything, everything I wish I could be.

It bears repeating: this is Midler's show. As Hershey is dying beachside during one of the film's numerous endings, the camera is fixed solely on Bette as "Wind Beneath My Wings" soars over the soundtrack. No death rattle from her lifelong friend, not even a sunset-drenched close-up of Hershey as her eyes flutter shut. In fact, Hershey dies offscreen, and we are left looking at Midler's oddly shaped, eternally bereaved face. Even on the cover of the new DVD case, Bette's cleavage almost trumps Hershey's billing. But there, above the cleavage, is that lovely tagline: Some friendships last forever. So do some movies.

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