By Rachel Sexton
A vast majority of the time, romance determines the shape of women’s stories told onscreen. The plot is a love story or the female character was the girlfriend in the man’s tale. This was especially true until recent years. However, once in a while, Hollywood allowed the emotional narrative of a friendship. Beaches is an example of this, and it dramatizes the good and bad that can arise from a friendship that motivates a person throughout their life.
Beaches began as a novel by Iris Rainer Dart and published in 1985. The story follows Cecelia Bloom (called Cee Cee) and Bertie White as they meet as children and stay friends into adulthood though their personalities are very different. They survive career triumphs and personal tragedies with their bond as a foundation. The book was a bestseller, and a film arrived in 1988, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, and directed by Garry Marshall. It was a hit, too, and featured the hugely successful song “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
The story establishes the opposite characteristics of Cee Cee and Bertie from the start. Cee Cee is outgoing (sometimes loud), often self-centered, and an aspiring singer and actress. Bertie is quiet, serious, and from a wealthy background. She eventually becomes a lawyer. On the surface, it seems like they should clash more than they do. The film version (which renames Bertie as Hillary) presents a significant fight between them, with accusations of jealousy, after which they don’t speak for a while. The story frequently emphasizes the talent Cee Cee has, while the audience sees that Hillary is the first to catch the eye of the theater director Cee Cee loves and ends up marrying. While I would have preferred this conflict over a man didn’t happen, that these two women drive each other to be true to themselves is clear.
The emotional climax of this friendship comes at the end of the story, when Bertie contracts viral cardiomyopathy and it proves to be terminal. Bertie leaves custody of her young daughter Victoria to Cee Cee. By this time, Cee Cee has become very successful as a singer and the way she handles the tragedy of losing her best friend shows what this connection has meant to her throughout her life, just as the fact that Bertie shoe Cee Cee to take care of her daughter after her death proves how she feels.
The bond between the two female characters of Beaches is an example of the way strong friendship can highlight both the positive and negative in someone’s personality. This kind of narrative is one of the few female-centric story types that Hollywood presents to audiences outside of romance. You could call this a “weepie” for its sad ending, but lately women’s stories on screen are becoming more than this typical fare. Even so, Beaches is memorable entertainment that’s all about a platonic connection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.