This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The film doesn't premiere until the day after this post's publication; we got a screener. (Plus the original film it's based on is almost thirty years old.)
Lifetime's Beaches Can't Ride The Wave Of Its Iconic Original
The whole thing sort of smells like low tide, and Al Lowe can't with this.
Listen. I know that nothing is sacred. Major League Baseball uniforms change. Prince and Bowie die. The American Presidency... [trails off into corner for two hours, sobbing violently]. Things change, and icons become tainted. Generations mourn. It happens. The world turns.
YA CAN'T REMAKE BEACHES, LEONA.
Now, should we applaud Lifetime and the whole assembled crew for thinking so big and taking a shot at Beaches, which premieres Saturday, January 21, at 8 PM ET? It's quite a group: Tony-winning Idina Menzel; Nia Long, recipient of the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and no less a director than Allison Anders, who did my beloved Grace Of My Heart and has won both a flipping MacArthur Genius Grant and a Peabody. I'm saying, this is a veritable who's who of industry sheroes over here, and perhaps they thought, "Well, if anyone is going to do it, it might as well be us -- extremely talented women, respectful of the legacy of what is perhaps the most revered girlfriend love letter in three generations. How could we miss?"
I assume that's what they thought. I will give them the benefit of that doubt. But, y'all...this movie is terrible. It almost qualifies, as so few things really do, as a legitimate fiasco. The first hour, especially, lacks pacing in the story, lacks chemistry between anybody onscreen, and just generally lacks connectivity from one thing to the next. But, most damning of all, it utterly lacks charm. If you just read that and reared back hissing, clutching at your pearls, pour yourself a fresh cup of tea, because I just put on my reading glasses.
What went wrong here? I know it's Lifetime and not a major motion picture, but we're in the new golden age of television and this thing is like a community college production of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers where they only had like, two to three brides to work with, and the set fell down during the opening number. This is like remaking West Side Story but setting it in an office building on the East side. And taking the story out? I don't even KNOW what it's like, because there isn't a perfect analogy for this flavorless sleepwalk through what was a familiar landscape, now warped like a funhouse mirror.
And here's what's sad: it all could have gone so differently. As I am sure I don't have to tell you, the original Beaches -- no; let's just call it Beaches, because this doesn't qualify as "the new" or even "the knockoff" -- that perfect storm of excellent screenwriting, brilliant comic acting and unchecked female hormones also had going for it one of the most fantastic soundtracks in decades. (Here's where I tell you that the Beaches soundtrack was the first album I bought on CD. Who knew that fateful day twenty-six years ago (?!) would establish the bona fides necessary to write this very piece? Thanks, Columbia House.) So, not that they should EVER have done it in the first place, but I can see a scenario where casting one of Broadway's biggest voices made them feel like they had a chance at touching the hem of the garment of Bette Midler's classic performances, at least.
Idina Menzel is, in fact, one of our greatest living instruments. And, like The Divine Miss M, she has a voice that is both beautiful and interesting (some might say "occasionally too interesting," but there's no room for cattiness here; she's amazing). The problem is that, unlike Bette Midler, she is...not Bette Midler? I mean, she has won Tony awards and carried major, MAY-JER stuff of every variety. Yes, ol' Adele Nazeem is firmly established in her own right. But. Well, I don't know what to say. We barely get to hear the woman really sing. You can drop S-bombs on Lifetime now, but you can't get "Otto Titsling" on the air? The musical elements that do make it to screen seem shoehorned in, denuded, and, with a few live exceptions, shamefully pre-fab. Idina, girl, you don't have to do that! You're you. It's honestly bizarre that the film barely approaches comparison to the iconic original even in the one area where it had a fighting chance: the singing.
Where there was a bigger mountain to climb, in illustrating the bone-deep bond of lifelong friendship between CC and Hillary, the movie barely even gets off the ground. It was an inspired choice to cast the beautiful Nia Long as Hillary. She is elegant and stately, qualities Barbara Hershey embodied so famously in Beaches. But, in establishing Hillary's smothered life, Long just seems so smothered. She and Menzel at times appear game to get things moving, but for most of the ninety minutes, the energy between the two of them is completely underwater. It isn't until the very last act, when Hillary is diagnosed with the cardiomyopathy that will take her life, that the urgency of the story lights enough of a fire under them to broadcast any warmth whatsoever.
Seeing CC rush to Hillary's side was enough to bring tears to my eyes and keep them there all the way through Menzel's moving final song. But, really, any version of Beaches that hews within a mile of the story of CC and Hillary could and should cause tidal waterworks that leave us sobbing long-distance to the friends we'll never let go. Unfortunately, the only wind beneath your wings to be found here will leave you feeling cold.