This week the Lifetime Network has annexed a new kingdom to its (ludicrously branded) Fempire, committing to a remake of the mother of all ’80s lady weepies: the drunk-girl’s-night-in classic, Beaches. The Beaches remake will star Idina Menzel as CC Bloom, an aspiring actress with delusions of grandeur who was played by Bette Midler in the original 1988 film.
Menzel isn't the most obvious successor to Midler — not like, say, comedian Mayim Bialik, whose appearance in the original Beaches as the young CC Bloom might be the most uncanny match of child performer to adult actress until Meryl started to rope in Mamie. But Menzel projects a kind of accidental anxiety that matches the intensity of Midler’s more intentional zaniness with the force of a thousand vibratos. She's prone to hyperventilation, she’s hit and miss in live performances, she’s “woman laughing alone with salad” even when she doesn't have salad. For one of Midler’s more pragmatic roles, she’d be out of place, but as the ever-dysfunctional CC Bloom, Menzel is a choice pleasingly in tune. There’s no word yet on who will be the Barbara Hershey to Idina’s CC, but good luck finding a gal who can play old money, ages 16–40, best friends with a Broadway-bound narcissist, and a slow deterioration from an unnamed illness — while still believably passing as the not-crazy one.
Beaches is the story of a tumultuous life-spanning friendship that begins and ends — you guessed it — on beaches. Lonely rich girl Hillary Whitney Essex and CC Bloom meet under the boardwalk as kids, and CC’s vivacity proves to be a lifeline for Hillary. They become fast friends, but in the years that follow, their relationship is tested by jealousy as their backgrounds, their temperaments, and their ambitions clash. In between the beaches that open and close their friendship, there are heartfelt talks, hairdos big and small, heavily choreographed arguments over makeup counters, husbands gained and lost. And it's all recorded — sometimes in love, sometimes in anger — in the extensive collection of letters kept by CC and Hillary.
What is that word, you say? “Letters”? Don’t I mean characters? DMs? Facebook messages? Emails? E-mails? No, dear young ones, CC and Hillary talk with paper and they keep that paper even after the sentiments described on that paper have become feelings of the past. Beaches is a movie that includes a Bette Midler song and dance about “tit-slingers,” and yet somehow the trippiest thing about it is remembering that, just 30 years ago, all of human communication took place offline.
Oh, sweet current generation of digital natives, you might not remember American politics before Obama, you might never sit in a traffic jam without Pokémon Go, you might never get lost in a new city without Google Maps. But I have known the soul-crushing guilt of not returning a letter in time. Who’s the lucky one now? It was to this world of organizational fragility, of corporeal permanence, that CC Bloom and Hillary Whitney Essex belonged, and a world of letters is even harder to replace than Barbara Hershey.
Imagine Idina staging a melodramatic tantrum over read receipts. Picture Idina lovingly cradling the printouts of her best friend’s Facebook messages. Or storyboard montages of new men, new apartments, and new hair with just the sound of Idina and an as-yet-unannounced Barbara Hershey replacement reading email voiceovers. Let Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer be a lesson for the greater good of mankind: All the wonders of digital communication start with the delete button — and they should end there too.