The story of the enduring, if rocky friendship between C.C. Bloom and Hilary Whitney, who met as 11 year-olds and became fast friends over a mere couple of hours. They write to each other for many years, until as adults C.C. (now a blowsy entertainer/singer played by Bette Midler) gets a call to come and see Hilary (now played by a very WASP-y Barbara Hershey). We then see a series of flashbacks to fill us in on their lives and friendship. Mayim Bialik plays the young C.C., Lainie Kazan is C.C.’s mother Leona, whilst John Heard and Spalding Gray play a couple of the men in the two women’s lives.
A really good movie is a really good movie no matter its genre or intended audience. I can appreciate any kind of film if it’s good. So it is that I’ve enjoyed some so-called ‘chick flicks’ over the years. Hell, “When Harry Met Sally…” might even fall into that category, and it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. I’m also quite partial to this iconic 1988 Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”, “Runaway Bride”) female-centric weepie. Scripted by Mary Agnes Donoghue (“Deceived”, “White Oleander”), and based on a novel of the same name it’s the best of the ‘female friendship’ subgenre, and by a pretty sizeable margin, too. Easily Marshall’s best film as director, if you can’t enjoy this one, I’m afraid it’s likely on you, not the film.
Often imitated, never bettered, this one gets the formula just about spot-on, even if Barbara Hershey’s plastic surgery (or in this specific case, collagen in her lips) was starting to get in the way of her performances a bit by this stage in her career. I’m not bringing it up to be cruel or insulting, it actually is very noticeable here and her performance is a bit lacklustre compared to everyone else. Part of that is the character, which as ‘The Song That Will Never Leave Your Brain’ dictates, should always be in the shadow of Bette Midler’s C.C. Bloom. A lot of it though, is just Hershey not being terribly expressive or interesting as an actress. She’s a bland actress playing a bland character. She’s not terrible or anything, but while the character should be overshadowed, the actress playing that character should not, and Hershey never quite gets it right. She lacks charisma above all else as well, and is at best acceptable in the role. On the plus side, Bette Midler is pitch-perfect casting as C.C. Bloom, a role that just seems tailor-made for her. I’m not exactly a fan of her music, and her version of ‘Under the Boardwalk’ is terrible, but the producer-star pretty much is C.C. Bloom as far as I’m concerned and the role perfectly suits her and her musical talents. There’s a particularly priceless stage number in tribute to breasts and brassieres that is certainly memorable. The film is clearly a showcase for what Midler is and can do, whilst Barbara Hershey is rendered a co-star. However, like I said part of that is pretty much the damn point, so it was shrewd of Midler to choose the project. Are she and Hershey a bit old for their roles? Yeah I guess so, but who else are you gonna get to play C.C. Bloom? No one, that’s who. As for Mayim Bialik playing the younger C.C. Bloom…wow. In what is perhaps the best casting and biggest scene-stealing performance in the film, young Mayim Bialik is scarily similar to Midler in this…and hilarious. It’s no surprise watching her in this that Bialik ended up getting her own sitcom. That she also happens to be smart, well-adjusted, and still on TV today is a testament to herself and her upbringing, no doubt. Nearly giving Midler and Bialik a run for their money is the well-cast Lainie Kazan as C.C.’s mother. She’s priceless and sounds like Howard’s mother on “The Big Bang Theory” if you ask me. As for John Heard, he’s not the greatest actor around but he’s a versatile one. He can play good guys as easily as he can play jerks, and does a rock-solid job here.
Unlike a lot of ‘chick flicks’, this one’s a little fairer to the other gender. Men don’t come off too badly here, except Hillary’s ex-husband. I do wish we had another scene or two with Spalding Gray’s character, but otherwise I have no complaints on that front. The amazing thing about this film is that for what is seen as a top female friendship film, it’s a friendship full of envy and jealousy on both fronts. It actually works, and is probably founded on some relatable truths as well. As for seemingly everyone’s favourite funeral song, I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’, but in the film it fits absolutely perfectly and it’s impossible not to be moved in the moment. It’s a shame the film doesn’t end on it, because the subsequent song performance to me is frankly a step too far. We get it, it’s all about you, Bette. And yes it suits the characters as I’ve said, for Bette/C.C. to overshadow one and all, but in this particular case I think they chose the wrong song to end on.
One of the best weepies of all-time, this really is such a lovely film, and seeing it again I had forgotten just how funny it is too. The story is irresistible and manages to overcome at least one not terribly interesting lead actress. A good movie is a good movie no matter the genre. This one’s a bit better than good. It really does work.