Lifetime original movies are really a trip now, aren’t they. Once a haven for out-of-work TV actresses who flexed their acting muscles playing all kinds of abused/victimized women, Lifetime has since branched out, churning out tabloid trash biopics/docudramas and is now also working on remaking campy, soapy melodramas from the 1980s. First we saw a reasonably successful take on Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, and this past season saw Lifetime’s post-millennial take on Beaches.
The intended audience for this remake will probably have already seen the movie a million times, own the DVD, and the CD, and have memorized every line of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” so I’m still a little unclear as to why there was a need to remake Beaches. Also, the Gary Marshall original – released in 1988 – is an exceedingly mediocre film, and in no way was an update needed, as the original did what it set out to do: make women viewers and gay male viewers cry.
And as absurd, tawdry, and overblown as the original was, it had a major selling point: Bette Midler, in a tailor-made vehicle. She didn’t so much chew the scenery as chop down on it, like Ms. Pacman. The C.C. Bloom character – a raucous, campy, torch singer with a bawdy sense of humor – was a perfect fit for Midler, and really it was just an extension of her concert persona. The movie gave Midler a chance to sing, vamp, crack jokes, and just be a terrifying whirlwind of emotion.
In the new version, Midler is replaced by Idina Menzel, Tony-Award winning singer-actress, known for her turn as Elphaba in Wicked. And though she has the singing chops, her C.C. is distressingly boring and blah. She lacks Midler’s queer/camp persona and screenwriters Bart Barker and Nikole Beckwith aren’t sure how to figure out their version of C.C. There are visual cues that she’s a misft – her hair is wild and crazy, and her apartment is messy. But otherwise, Menzel’s performance lacks the charisma and star power of Midler’s.
And then there’s the best friend role, Hillary. In the original, poor Barbara Hershey was hired to be beautiful and to bravely brace herself at the onset of Hurricane Midler, before dying to the bathetic strands of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” In the new version, Nia Long gets saddled with the thankless job of being C.C.’s wind beneath her wings, and though the actress tries to inject some life into the role, she’s constantly thwarted by a script that wants to force her into rote cliches.
Besides the blah casting, there’s also the weird fidelity to the original. Very little is done differently in the new version of Beaches, except some shuffling of events from the original. There are even echoes of some of the lines (none of the funny ones, though). The new film does nothing to update the film, save dress its heroines in contemporary clothing and have Minzel belt some already-dated AC/pop tunes (the less said about her reaching cover of “Wind Beneath My Wings” the better)
The theme of the story is about friendship – long-lasting friendship between two women that begins in childhood. The friendship begins on a Venice Beach boardwalk, with a 10 year-old C.C. busking for coins, and an awestruck Hillary watching. In the original, we have Mayim Bialik – who seemed born just to play Bette Midler as a child. Bialik was able to mimic Midler’s Borscht Belt/Catskills schtick perfectly. In the new version, we have the pretty Gabriella Pizzolo, who kinda-sorta looks like Menzel. Pizzolo does what she can but she’s not given much – the writers rush through the childhood scenes, so that we get Menzel and Long right away. In half an hour, so much happens! Childhood, marriage, divorce, and then we finally settle into the meat of the film, in which C.C. and Hillary profess their undying love for each other.
Throughout the film, I wondered just how the producers convinced such classy actresses like Nia Long and Indina Menzel to star in such schlock (I’m hoping each got such a huge payout for this thing that they can now buy private islands). The writing is superficial, glossing over any real examination of the friendship, and there isn’t a trope that the writers can’t resist: even if you haven’t seen the original, the minute Nia Long stops for a second to catch her breath, you know not to get too closely attached to her.
Of course the ending of the movie is supposed to be this huge emotional crescendo – the one where you reach for your Kleenix. But the film as a whole is so manipulative and cheaply-made, that instead of sadness or catharsis, there’s relief – finally, the movie’s over. There’s so little to recommend in this nonredeemable exercise in mediocrity. The actresses – so much better in other projects – flounder and looked confused because of the subpar material. The writing is paper thin and the recycled bits from the original just remind viewers of how much better the older movie was (and that’s not saying a whole lot). The only thing this film has got going for it, is the sets are sometimes pretty (the beach house C.C. and Hillary share is very pretty – the Hollywood mansion C.C. enjoys as a big time pop star is a tacky monstrosity, complete with an even tackier white piano).
The original Beaches is camp – it’s hokum, but camp. The new version – strangely amateurish, and feeling like a cheapo rush job, fails as camp and merely settles into crap.