I received "Beaches" as a gift when it was released on video from a friend who has been in my life since third grade. We rode the bus together from 3rd grade through high school...I am her daughter's Godparent...we have maintained a strong connection and friendship even as she has moved to the East Coast, married and gotten a family. She has a sixth sense about me and seems to know when I am struggling or down or sad or frustrated. We hardly ever talk, but when we do it's always perfect. We've never had a fight and there is this undeniable, unspoken loyalty. She is, perhaps, the only person that I truly do not question will always be there when I need her.
"Beaches" is, basically, about such a friendship and the role it plays through our lives. Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey play these friends beautifully...they capture the peaks and valleys of friendship with a simplicity, an authenticity that is more real than it is dramatic. "Beaches" goes for authenticity over "selling the drama," something that is rare in films these days.
I prefer Midler in these sorts of roles...while she has comic talents, I prefer it when her characters have a natural comic tone rather than a forced comic nature. This character is driven, passionate and naturally relaxed to the point of a gently humorous nature. Midler captures a balance with the character and does so beautifully.
Likewise, Hershey is the more privileged of the two...from what I've heard, there are aspects of Hershey's personality in this character...but, there's also a tremendous vulnerability that Hershey brings here...it's a refined, restrained performance and Hershey nails it.
In supporting roles, the likes of John Heard, Spalding Gray and Lainie Kazan do a nice job filling out the cast along with Mayim Bialik and Marcie Leeds, who play the Midler/Hershey characters as younger children.
There is so much that I appreciate about this film...it's look is beautiful, but not showy...in fact, the film received an Oscar nomination for art direction and I'd say it was well deserved. The film is, perhaps, still best known for its hit song "Wind Beneath My Wings" from Midler...it's a powerful song that fits nicely with the themes of friendship and loyalty and "being there". It fits the film perfectly.
"Beaches" is not perfect...it is a touch long at 123 minutes, and there are definitely times when I felt manipulated. Additionally, some of the hardcore emotional scenes are simply beyond the range of Barbara Hershey...I just didn't quite buy into them. Yet, I can't deny that I bought into the film...undoubtedly, this is partially due to its emotional connection to my life. It reminds me so much of my friend and our friendship...it reminds me of the healing power that very friendship has had in my life...it reminds me that even when I may feel alone I truly am not alone. For over 15 years, "Beaches" has been a safe harbor during times of loneliness...a film I can watch and become centered again...become grateful again...and become aware that even when I forget who I am there is always someone there to remind me.