The Knockturnal attended a screening of Beaches starring Idina Menzel and Nia Long directed by Allison Anders, which will premiere on Lifetime on Jan. 21, 2017 at 8 PM EST, and recommends you to watch it if you want to get hit in the nostalgia and have any reason to get a good cry out this weekend.
When the news hits that an iconic movie like Beaches is getting the revival treatment, it’s easy to become skeptical. This iteration, starring Idina Menzel as CC Bloom, the spunky aspiring singer and actress, and Nia Long as Hillary Whitney, the shy, bookish and beautiful lawyer, who develop an unlikely and long-lasting friendship does get the present-day update and was smartly made for TV to debut on Lifetime, the perfect vehicle catering to its fanbase.
The 1988 original has all the elements of a classic—with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey starring as CC and Hillary, respectively, the late Garry Marshall in the director’s chair, and featuring some truly adept child acting from Mayim Bialik in her breakout role (who was a ringer for Midler, bursting with charisma) and Grace Johnston as Hillary’s daughter Victoria, not to mention of course the immortal theme song “Wind Beneath My Wings”—it seemed impossible to improve on the original, no matter how campy it was.
By having Menzel step into, sing and dance in Midler’s shoes, a huge modern talent with a slow-burning career paying homage to an equally huge enduring star, with the similar Jewish chutzpah balanced with worry and insecurity, and by casting Nia Long, an African-American actress with a solid career in television and movies as the co-star, changing a main character’s race with no pomp or circumstance made an appropriate and vital update for viewers both new and old to look up to.
[*Spoiler Alerts Ahead*]
They weaved in strong cultural elements that develop Hillary’s life story growing up black, such as at her father’s funeral, where she honors him in her eulogy as a strong role model, a black single father with a renowned law career, as well in a touching scene where Hillary teaches CC how braid her daughter Victoria’s hair (there’s a similar hair-braiding scene in the original that is fluffier and less poignant), which foreshadows how she knows CC will have to do this some day and it may not come naturally to her white, well-meaning friend.
I also loved how CC’s odd-jobs were updated to doing dog commercial voiceover work and singing at Bar Mitzvahs (a nod to Menzel’s early career as a wedding and affair singer), where she gets discovered by a director-turned beau. However, her foray into a television career was a bit less inspired, though it turned around with CC falling back into a music career (with a Menzel-original song).
Some other changes that I am not sure improved upon the story but did refresh it, was relocating the girls’ original meeting to Las Vegas instead of the boardwalk on Atlantic City, because we then find out that both girls are from California, “the same state,” so it becomes less plausible down the line that they keep in touch exclusively through letters, then phone calls, instant messages, and emails when as adults they could easily see each other, even more so when they are separated as Hillary’s father’s health deteriorates. CC really couldn’t make it to Hillary’s wedding or the funeral a couple cities away? You can understand Hillary’s frustration even more when it comes to their big, relationship-altering fight, as there’s so much more than just a jealousy of CC’s bohemian lifestyle underlying the boiling point.
The movie manages to preserve many of the touchstones from the original, like the apartment set-up with the window wall and a bed on either side (though Menzel’s CC has an apartment that looks much more like it was furnished by Urban Outfitters and had a good scrub, stealing Carrie Bradshaw’s trick for storing sweaters in the oven), the carol singing, the back-and-forth banter between CC and Hillary’s daughter, and the hilarious fight over CC’s punctuality while Hillary’s in labor.
However, the remake did do away with some of the more zany or implausible details, like how Hillary’s pregnancy, which was quite underway once they reunite, was lasted long enough for CC to become engaged to Hillary’s Ob-Gyn and leave him before the birth in the original, as well as the premise that Hillary didn’t discuss CC’s custody of her daughter before writing it in her will.
The new Beaches helps to acknowledge how ahead of its time the original Beaches was, even in 1988, at least within the realm of “chick movies,” to put more emphasis on the enduring friendship among the women and how they didn’t need to find new romantic relationships in order to feel complete—that motherhood and satisfying careers were enough to sustain these women. It’s an incredible message for a whole new audience to appreciate, and potentially imagine for themselves without any stigma of spinsterhood.