Sometimes it’s purifying when a sad movie grabs hold of you and makes you cry, and the tears slide down your cheeks as you drown in deep feelings about illness, death, loss, and various other heartbreaking matters, and for a few minutes you allow yourself some ugly, face-twisting, vicarious blubbering over the lives of fictional strangers — even though you probably strain to put on a strong face when tragedy strikes you personally.
Well the new remake of the 1988’s “Beaches” is not going to make you feel that way. Nope, no catharsis here. The Lifetime movie, which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m., tries to make us boo and hoo with its story of the undying friendship between Idina Menzel’s CC and Nia Long’s Hillary as they face great misfortune. Long heaves her chest to show Hillary struggling to breathe, as she, her young daughter, and CC savor their days together by the ocean. But still, it’s all as flat as my voice is when I sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” which is to say there aren’t any ennobling gusts of inspiration lurking beneath the movie’s wings.
I can’t say I’m surprised. The original “Beaches,” directed by Garry Marshall and starring Bette Midler as CC and Barbara Hershey as Hillary, wasn’t particularly good, either, even if it succeeded in making big audiences reach for their Kleenex. (It also succeeded in sparking early controversy about injectables, inspiring columnist Erma Bombeck to write, “I have no idea what ‘Beaches‘ was all about. All I could focus on was Barbara Hershey’s lips.”) Sure, the original had Midler, which was fun at times; but it was also aggressively manipulative, predictable, and shallow, in that it never really filled in the details of what made these very different women so close. It was more like the CliffsNotes of a melodrama than a genuine melodrama, a list of conventions of the genre.
The new “Beaches,” directed by Allison Anders, is even less substantial as it goes through the motions of a tearjerker. It’s like a CliffsNotes of a CliffsNotes of a melodrama. It’s not so much that Menzel and Long are bad — they’re consistently OK, if never better than that — but the story is too hollow for them to dig in. Singer-actress CC and lawyer Hillary meet as kids, become pen pals, room together, fall in love with the same guy (the director who gives CC her break, played by Antonio Cupo), and go through their expected friendship arc. None of it manages to work up much lather.
I understand why Lifetime has remade “Beaches.” There’s something obvious about the cable channel that targets female TV viewers wanting to get its hands on an icon in the history of movies that target female moviegoers. When I first heard about the new version, I think my exact thoughts were, “Uh, duh.” I was surprised it hadn’t been done already. But still, just because the remake is an expected move doesn’t make it a necessary one.
Starring: Nia Long, Idina Menzel, Antonio Cupo, Gabriella Pizzolo, Grace Capeless, Colin Lawrence
On: Lifetime, Saturday at 8 p.m.