Beaches is Garry Marshall’s 1988 adaptation of Iris Rainer Dart’s novel of the tumultuous but unbreakable friendship between C.C. Bloom (Bette Midler) and Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey). While the film has its flaws, Beaches is an important part of the Marshall’s 80s-oeuvre for one reason: it’s concerned with the friendship between two women. In an industry where so many plot lines resort to the romantic, sweep-in-on-the-white-horse finally, Beaches makes the bold statement that a story about a woman’s life can be fascinating without having to depend on a man. The bond that is shared between C.C. and Hillary through adolescence, work, love and ultimately death is one that isn’t seen enough in cinema.
Can’t it be just as important to show viewers the importance of a female friendship that tries not to orbit around a man’s acceptance?
We meet C.C. and Hillary at 11 years old. Hershey’s Hillary comes from a waspy Bay Area family that has her fated to become a lawyer. Midler’s C.C. is an aspiring, crass-mouthed singer and performer from New York. The two collide on a beach in Atlantic City, and the kismet of friendship is inescapable. They write cross-country letters to one another for years, growing closer and closer despite distance and social class. When they finally live together in New York, they both face important life lessons. C.C. learns that to really let someone in you have to stop putting on a show, while Hillary realizes she must lose the comfort of her family’s wealth and status to pursue the life of social justice she’s really interested in. Men do play an important role in the plot line, but there’s always an understanding that Beaches’ strongest love story is the one between C.C. and Hillary. Sure, it’s inspiring to see a woman fight for a romantic relationship she believes in – and it’s not as if these plot lines should be pushed to the wayside. But who’s to say they always take precedence in the trajectory of a life? Can’t it be just as important to show viewers the importance of a female friendship that tries not to orbit around a man’s acceptance?
Beaches’ acting can often wax kitsch – especially when it comes to Hershey’s doe-eyed delivery. And it doesn’t help that we’re immersed in an Aqua Net cloud of 1980s Broadway. Midler becomes the film’s saving grace—her bite, humor and sensitivity bring Beaches back down to earth while making the viewer feel like they have an honest friend in her character.
Death and dying become not only the friends’ final obstacle but their final adventure.
Towards the film’s end, Hillary is diagnosed with potentially fatal cardiomyopathy. In order to live, she explains to C.C. that she needs a heart transplant matching her rare tissue type. The two women have been through a lot at this point, especially with Hillary having left her husband and raised a child as a single parent. Death and dying become not only the friends’ final obstacle but their final adventure.
To see the topic of terminal illness and death in the context of a movie about friendship is refreshing. And it’s just as important to know that while Beaches ends in death, it spends far more time celebrating life. Some of us may not have family members to be with us as we near our dying experience, and Marshall’s story is a reminder for us to cultivate the relationships that will carry us through to the end. Those are the relationships that bring us laughter, growth and the courage to face the end of life.
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- Film Review: Griefwalker (2012) by Tim Wilson