(Warning! Some spoilers ahead.)
I spent all of Lifetime's mucho-hyped Beaches remake weeping inwardly about how it was like the Cliff Notes version of the original but then I ugly cried through the last twenty minutes anyway. I don't know if I should blame Lifetime for being Lifetime or my emotional preggo self for picking up the slack where my obligatory box of Franzia usually steps in during misguided Beaches viewings.
Full disclosure: I love the original Beaches, with Bette Midler (my queen) and Barbara Hershey and Barbara Hershey's 1980s botox lips and a wee pre-Blossom, pre-PhD, pre-Big Bang Theory Mayim Bialik as tweenage CC Bloom, stealing smokes on the beach and getting sand all over her kiddie-vaudville costume.Unsurprising spoiler alert: Lifetime's 2017 version of kiddie CC does not smoke, which is just one of many, many updates and adjustments to this glossy (but certainly not glittery, because that might be construed as tacky) remake. 1950s Atlantic City is relocated to 1980s Venice Beach, California. Stage mother Leona becomes a frazzled shopkeep whose talented daughter panhandles without a permit rather than indulge in that old-time Hollywood tradition of working grueling hours in a dinky D-grade production in hopes of being "discovered."
Hilary Whitney ( Nia Long) undergoes the most dramatic transformation. Still the half-orphaned daughter of a hugely successful attorney, Hilary's first moments on our screens are not spent wandering among the crowds in a tearful panic over losing track of her nanny/aunt, but are spent delighting in CC's (Idina Menzell) street show, having intentionally ditched her minders and the boring, stuffy world of being human baggage on another one of daddy's work trips, to get out there and slum it in the real world.
It's Hilary who benefits the most from Lifetime's facelift and not just because the network decided turn stereotypes on their heads and portray their Hilary as a smart, classy black woman who succeeds her legendary father as formidable lawyer in her own right. Her's is not the story of a brainy black girl defying odds and pulling herself out of The Projects. This is a brainy black girl who went to stuffy boarding schools, had an au pair, and all the other trappings of a wealthy upbringing. Even in the wake of an era of unprecedented diversity, of eight years watching the Obama girls grow up in halls previously reserved for the whitest of the white girls, Nia Long's Hilary isn't a character we see very often, though we should.
Despite her privilege and opportunity, Lifetime's Hilary is given conflict that often felt glossed over in the original movie. Hershey's Hilary mentioned an overbearing, controlling father, but we never really saw him in action. The question of gender roles — that Hilary was expected to marry a handsome lawyer who worked for her dad and watch him grow into the leadership role daddy once occupied — worked well in OG Beaches' 70s interlude but there's something to be said for the nuance in Lifetime's late 90s/early 00s portrayal of CC and Hilary's (Long) tumultuous 20s. Hilary still ended up marrying a dude from her father's firm, but there was never any question that she would be the one to succeed her father, ladybits or no ladybits.
To say that CC suffers in comparison is unfortunate, because I really do enjoy what nu-Beaches does with it's revamp of Hilary Whitney-- allowing her to remain the more outwardly vulnerable and quiet of these two women while giving her a strength and fierceness of her own that was lost in the spectacle of CC. That's literally the entire message of "Wind Beneath my Wings"-- and we'll get to my way less gracious thoughts on that in a sec — but there were definitely some good feelings over here watching Hilary be more of a force in her own story this time around instead of just an (incredibly important) part of CC's.
CC though...okay, look, I'm really bitter about "Otto Titsling" not making the cut here, and "Oh Industry" being replaced by what reminded me of a music video I once saw at 6am on VH1 circa 1998, and CC's humiliating pre-stardom gig being reduced to a boring bar mitzvah/wedding singer thing instead of the endearing WTF of dressing like a giant bunny rabbit to deliver singing telegrams. I get it. Lifetime's Beaches was built around Idina Menzel's music career as much as the original was built around Bette Midler's and to simply plop Menzel down in the campy, vampy, diva antics that Midler continues to embody so well would be...off.
Menzel's CC isn't without her own misadventures on the way to fame or her own struggle to get the cash and the cache without sacrificing that thing inside that makes her an artist. However, this is where the two Beaches are hopelessly divided: one is a classic and the other is an okay remake that gets the broad strokes right, but loses something in the translation. Beaches is ultimately, the epic story of an amazing friendship between two unlikely women. The stuff that makes and breaks a friendship isn't all sweeping moments of triumph or, alternately, betrayal. It's the little stuff, the mundane and the absurd. In the original Beaches, Hilary Whitney spent two hours dying her hair the exact same color as her natural 'do. That's such a minor and forgettable moment, in the big scheme of things, but also so very Hilary. When CC (both CCs) talk about their long memories, those are the memories they are talking about. Those are the anecdotes that are going to give Little Orphan Victoria the clearest idea of who her mother is in the coming years. Lifetime's Beaches skimped on those fleeting moments and gave us a sleek, updated story complete with a contemporary-- but unremarkable-- soundtrack (if you're looking for something in the vein of Idina Menzel's Frozen, Wicked, or Rent performances, please look elsewhere.)
This is a perfectly serviceable overview of what Beaches is and if you're five months pregnant, off your mood stabilizers, and guilty of taking the Orange One's inauguration as a personal insult, you may even manage to cry your eyes out at the end. Make no mistake though, this is the abridged edition of Beaches: faithful, but ultimately, lacking.
Beaches airs Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8/7c on Lifetime.