We Watched the New ‘Beaches’: We Argued. We Cried. We Missed Bette.
The Daily Beast
January 19, 2017
with Kevin Fallon
Kevin: Tim. We’re about to watch the new Beaches. Are you emotionally prepared? Fully hydrated? Or are you already weeping?
Tim: You can never be fully prepared for Beaches. I have watched the original multiple times, including at a “cry-a-long” at the 92nd Street Y. Some straight men got in, and almost ruined it. One of them said, “This is shit,” in that scene when Bette Midler was dressed in the bunny suit. We hissed at them to shut up, all of us gays and women there. We also contemplated murder, figuring any court of law would have unanimously acquitted us.
Kevin: Crashing a cry-a-long is a hate crime, in my opinion. Me? I revisited Beaches this weekend. Bette Midler is so good! My boyfriend walked in right when Hillary and CC were fighting in the department store and I silenced him before he even started speaking I was so enrapt. We may or may not be still together.
Tim: I hope your relationship survives it, but it’s hard to think of a worse crime.
Kevin: Yes! He crashed my own personal cry-a-long. The nerve.
Tim: The point is, the original Beaches isn’t just a weepy, it finishes you off. Every time I have watched it, I am a mess. A glutinous, heaving mess. I don’t cry softly to Beaches, I lose it completely. I have on every single viewing (I first saw it as a gay fetus, aged 18.) I was around older gay men. It was like I was being passed vital, secret information. I have seen it many times since, and saw it again a few months ago, and not for the first time became obsessed by the faceless rental car attendant who gives CC her vehicle to get to Hillary in the rainstorm. He’s a “big fan.” Yeah, right, babe.
Kevin: OK. So thoughts on the remake, sight-unseen. Idina Menzel is such on-the-nose casting, I love it. She’s so thirsty to be the baby Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand never had that her doing this is so deliciously campy. And I love Nia Long! I love that this is color-blind casting! So woke, this new Beaches. I’m optimistic. Plus, any excuse to cry, really. You?
Tim: It is excellent the new Beaches is color-blind, but I am in an unforgiving mood. You cannot, must not fuck up Beaches. The department store scene is amazing. The “cat” line at the end by Victoria should lead you to cry at the screen: “Let her have the cat. She must have the cat.” And honestly, I love Bette Midler in this so much because it’s Bette Midler. She sang in gay saunas with Barry Manilow. This is Bette as Bette should be. And the film is a glorious, unapologetic weepy, told big, sung big, played big. So, big gay, dramatic, teary shoes to fill all round. And we have already frozen the screen on the opening graphic, and it looks modern and horrible and we are not under a boardwalk. So I am quite annoyed already.
Kevin: Adele Dazeem, you have been warned! Alright, off we go. I feel like Thelma to your Louise and we are joining hands driving off the cliff of human emotion together.
Tim: Here we go. I am ready to age.
[Roughy 30 seconds pass.]
Tim: Yes, I hate it. Fucking sea and birds and drippy music. Seagulls. Beaches. Oh right. That’s it. No boardwalk. No Hollywood Bowl. Saw my arm off.
[Five more seconds.]
Tim: Oh lawks, they’re starting at the end, with Long’s character about to cark it.
Kevin: Oh Tim, so many changes already and we are roughly 45 seconds in. I worry for your well-being. Let’s give it a few minutes. Look, it’s young CC singing on a boardwalk! Things are already looking up!
Tim: Imagine Queen Victoria being instructed to text. That is my expression right now.
Kevin: Readers, it is.
Tim: OK, so the young CC has been transformed into an Avril Lavigne skater kid. Not the frowzy showgirl in training. Young Hillary is as proper as she was in the original. The color-blind casting is refreshing. But this is way flatter than the original, at least early on.
Kevin: OK. Ten minutes have elapsed. Tim, are you breathing? There are changes, yes. This is clearly an update. (They’re emailing, the horror!) Our brassy Broadway babe CC has been transplanted to the West Coast, which is a) sacrilege and b) wise in order to distance Menzel’s performance from Midler’s iconic one. Menzel, thus far, has what I would call muted spunk. It’s not Midler spunk, but it’s there, and it’s different, and different is the only way to go here.
Tim: This is atrocious. The smarts and early, necessary emotional tweaks have been shaved away, leaving a dull husk.
Kevin: Oh wow. OK.
Tim: The magic of the film is the sense of time passing, between two girls and later young women, who are passionate for one another. There is no sign of an intense attachment at all, at this early stage. Beaches does build momentum of course. But the transplant from New York to LA, and the ’70s now turned into the millennium, and the texting and the emailing just leads to the sense of magic being leaked away. We don’t know them, yet we are being asked to care. A little too early. Also Idina Menzel’s CC is kind of OK at what she does, in fact pretty good, and not a duffed-up wannabe. Her route to success isn’t really that testing.
Kevin: At the risk of being asked to forfeit my gay card—and after I’ve just had it laminated, at that—there’s a certain hokeyness and maybe maudlin-ness to the original Beaches that works because it is so, as you said, of the time. But here it’s just plain hokey. That said, I’m liking Menzel more with each scene. She’s more kooky whereas Midler was the hurricane-in-the-room. I appreciate that it’s a different take. You can’t redo Bette. She’s wise to not try. Plus, it’s only been 20 minutes.
Tim: There was no banging on the pipes because it was cold. There needs to be banging on the pipes because it’s cold. There was no Marge outside. There is no fun and weird here. It’s just people sing-songing lines at one another. Everything feels so light and not thought-through. Yet. I am open. I remain open. If they fuck up “Otto Titsling” I’m ordering gin on Seamless.
Kevin: I’m liking the dialogue scenes more than the montages and musical numbers that we associate with the original. When this sets itself apart from its predecessor, it does much better. But it’s also for TV, which means the scenes are all so, so short. I feel like I’m sprinting through an emotional marathon.
Tim: One thing that occurs to me is that the color-blind casting brings a problem. When CC turns on Hillary in their first argument about life being so easy for her, one obvious point to make would be that being a person of color can make life that much more difficult in terms of achieving anything. So, brave and good visual decision; but any racial politics are so far all buried/non-existent. (It does crop up, in one line, later.)
Kevin: But it does help make the point that, for all their closeness, they don’t know each other as well as they think they do… and will years from now when we’re all weeping together? I dunno. It’s me. Mr. Benefit of the Doubt. (I don’t consider myself a Menzel stan but, again, I thought she was great in that scene. Do I secretly… love her?)
Tim: I’m growling at the sheer shitty writing of the time-passing/messages/women separated scenes. “My messages were full.” I’m sorry I’m growling.
Kevin: But, again, I thought those were pretty shittily written in the original! It just worked because that style of screenwriting somehow “worked” at that time.
Tim: It worked because the original film, directed by Garry Marshall, had the confidence of the emotional trajectory of the script mixed with Midler’s gale-force talent and the lush orchestration to demonstrate time passing and all that. It carries you along. The original is an emotional envelope, which you pop yourself into, and just whoosh along with. This is an empty parcel, so far.
Tim: Get ready for “salt and pepper shakers” as a hashtag, gays.
Kevin: (Whispers) I’m starting to like the West Coast move as something just different. CC’s a movie star, not a Broadway star, which gives a maybe more quickly identifiable cue to the 2017 audience about how her career is taking her away from her friendship, more than a Broadway career would have? And I’m just thankful we don’t have to see lame attempts at recreating New York City apartments on L.A. soundstages.
Tim: Note though that the tastelessness or outrageous taste of CC in the original has been toned down. No big, galumphing dog. It’s a much quieter, more salubrious Beaches all round.
Kevin: Oh no. The big scene. The big row. It’s not at a department store. I’m already speed-dialing 911 for Tim.
Tim: THIS IS A BEACHES TRAVESTY. THIS IS FAKE BEACHES, BITCHES.
Kevin: “Operator? Yes. I’m here with a gay watching the new Beaches…” “Say no more.”
Tim: The big confrontation is done outside some dreary cafe. And honestly the depth of the friendship we have seen doesn’t merit the blowout. The acting is flat. And that confrontation scene was terrible. It should end with Hillary in a plane toilet, weeping, no compromises. It did not. The actors, for me, are fatally not occupying their characters or physical spaces very convincingly.
Kevin: For me, they’re the only things actually working well. I’m trying to divorce my watching this from memories of watching Bette and Barbara, and trying to just appreciate it as Idina and Nia. I think they’re doing OK? Please don’t hurt me.
Tim: Never! And I agree in part, though Idina’s method of expressing upset is to pout and channel Sandra Bernhard. There is no emotional sweep here. Important if shallow note: the men of Beaches soulless mark 2 are, at least, very cute. They all have lovely white teeth and perfect facial hair.
Kevin: A proper summary of the new, less gritty Beaches at the halfway point: like the old one, but with whiter teeth and perfect hair.
Tim: OK, Nia does better angry than Barbara did in the original when she comes home to discover her husband’s betrayal. No apple on head though. Need the apple.
Kevin: Shh, Idina’s singing.
Tim: Oh great, another forgettable song. In fact, nearly all of Beaches’ brilliant songs have been mainly stripped away. There’s an odd new one thrown in in its place. All of Bette Midler’s crazy showmanship has been replaced by Idina Menzel standing still. No doctor’s wife subplot. No “And I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.” And no car attendant giving CC her car. No rainstorm. Beaches, what have they done to you?
Tim: Everyone’s sad. Nia’s eating ice cream from the tub. Idina’s singing in a maxi. No one’s doing their hair.
[About a minute of a song passes…]
Tim: Idina is still singing her big song. Months have gone passed. They’re about to row again, and make up. They’ve done their hair, finally.
Kevin: I’m not as upset about scenes taking place in different places as you are. (The lazy, though apt, critique of remake critiques: If I wanted to watch the original I’d watch that.) I’m interested in how updating this to a modern-day setting sort of adds different contexts to how women define their friendships, and how the career/personal life debate that seems to be so much of CC’s narrative changes in modern day. I think the fact that CC’s ambition seems less unusual or dramatic here, since it is 2017, lowers the stakes a little. But it’s interesting nonetheless.
Tim: I’m not expecting to see a remake, scene by scene. But the thing that is missing from this, so far, is the emotional sweep and trajectory of the original. And the wit, energy, and contrasts of the two performers. I cared about Midler and Hershey. I don’t hugely care about these two. Yet. I don’t think the narrative feels that complex or the friendship that deep. Everyone just seems to be inflecting to me. Like. A lot.
Kevin: I think the beats are there, they’re just shorter because this is TV. You don’t get to live in the scenes long enough to really brew that emotional connection. This is Beaches in the age of This Is Us—drive-by emotional wallops. I’m OK with that.
Tim: I’m not. Anything smaller is drearier, and Beaches should be a little bigger than this. You need to buy the friendship to buy the ending, and I am not yet. I love This Is Us: It really knows how to make this old man cry. Mind you, Idina just got good as Hillary preps to have the baby. Please keep Idina this crazy.
Kevin: Hillary just wheezed her first sign of illness while CC was singing “I’ll Stand By You” and I’M NOT READY.
Tim: We have a tissue switch needed. They’re needed for Mr. Fallon. Mr. Teeman is dry-eyed. Oh dear. The Hollywood Bowl has been substituted for a marquee on a hill. Lifetime needs to invest more in crowd scenes to convince audiences crowds number more than three people.
Kevin: The hospital scene was good. Very good. First tear sighting on Fallon’s end.
Tim: Agreed, and the Victoria/CC towel scene REMAINS.
Kevin: Small miracles. Nia Long is really good in these “I’m scared and sad I’m going to die” scenes.
Tim: The beach is better in the new Beaches. Really lovely sand. Both women are much, much better too, and so is the script toward the end. As fans would hope. The film is finally according these moments the space they need.
Kevin: I hear sniffling, Tim.
Tim: I do have a cold. But it is starting, folks. The film just 150 percent improved in these last moments. And there’s a lovely moment with Menzel falteringly trying to play “Wind Beneath My Wings” on a little piano. And not quite getting it. It was kind of piercing.
Kevin: This final act is like a whole different movie. Much more emotionally rich. Stiller. The scenes are longer. The writing is Stepmom-levels of cry assault. Both actresses seem to be more emotionally volatile, too, which is making me the same.
Tim: All I’ll say is they slightly/totally fluff key moments toward the end. And again, the limitations of a made-for-TV movie become clear. And “Wind Beneath My Wings” remains Bette’s. There is no Victoria cat moment.
Kevin: All I’ll say is I cried. Which, honestly, is all I set out to do. (Maybe even all Lifetime set out to get me to do.)
Tim: I am very happy to report that the magisterial “The Glory of Love” remains, and Menzel totally nails it. I adore this song so much.
Kevin: Well, here we are. Two gays, one who clearly has a fierce attachment to the integrity of the original Beaches, one who just wanted to see Idina Menzel sing a few songs and have a good afternoon cry. We are then, I’d imagine, two gays with very different levels of satisfaction after watching this.
Tim: Well maybe not so much. Nothing will dent my fierce love of the original. And if this feels slightly less sure-footed and immersive, then so be it. That last 25 minutes was very winning. I would say that any original Beaches fans may be a little disappointed, but not a whole lot. Guys, you’ll still be crying at the end. It’s still something to watch with a bottle of red and your buddies. And you will need tissues. It’s not a total bust. But I’ll stick with my 1988 vintage thanks. To anyone watching who prizes the original as highly as me, you may want to moderate expectations–or watch the original. Well, you will anyway three times this year. At least.
Kevin: There were some impossible tasks here, chiefly Idina Menzel living up to Bette Midler’s performance. I think she gave a cleverly different spin on CC, and confidently stuck with it in a way that I ended up really appreciating. Maybe even admiring? Nia Long nailed that last act. It was a nice, easy watch, and they didn’t bastardize anything—which, honestly, in today’s world of awful reboots is the highest praise. And you and I, Tim? We’ll always have crying together in a tiny Manhattan office while Idina Menzel sings “Wind Beneath My Wings.” So there’s that.
Tim: We are literally two gay men with bad overhead lighting crying in a side office. I love that it came to this.
Kevin: We have finally self-actualized. Thanks, Idina. Thanks, new Beaches.