Any time a beloved movie or TV series gets a remake, knee-jerk purists howl about it “ruining” the original.
“Beaches,” starring Idina Menzel (“Frozen”) and Nia Long (“The Best Man Holiday”) and airing Saturday on Lifetime, is the rare case of a remake that might actually do just that. Stripped down to a lean 90-minute running time but otherwise faithful to its source material, it exposes the maudlin excess inherent to this tale of female friendship, terminal illness and prime waterfront real estate.
Viewers with a nostalgic soft spot for the 1988 weepie, which featured Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey and transformed “Wind Beneath My Wings” into a staple of funerals and figure-skating routines for decades to come, may retroactively question their judgment.
The three-hanky weeper has fallen on hard times recently, whether because grown-up films are harder to get made or because the tear-jerker has migrated to social media, where bittersweet true-life tales of love, death and friendship go viral on a daily basis.
So it’s understandable that Lifetime has attempted to fill this void by looking backward, first with an African American version of “Steel Magnolias” in 2012 that may have actually been an improvement on the all-white original.
The same can’t be said of “Beaches,” a movie I fondly recall from middle-school sleepovers but have not revisited much in the past 20 years. While plenty of films from that hallowed sub-genre -- hello, “Dirty Dancing” -- hold up, I suspect that as a grown woman, any version of “Beaches” would strike me as patently ridiculous.
Let’s begin with the basic premise. CC Bloom (Menzel), a brash aspiring actress-singer, and Hillary Whitney (Long), a reserved heiress and lawyer, are an odd-couple pair of best friends who spent a few fateful hours with each other as children on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Based on this single afternoon, they spend years exchanging letters and as adults reunite and become roommates. Various medical and romantic complications ensue.
Their virtual relationship is the kind of thing that might actually be possible in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, but in the dark old ages of the 1980s and 1990s (which is roughly when their story begins) it simply makes CC and Hillary seem stunted.
Likewise, watching two grown women, played by glamorously coiffed, accomplished actresses in their mid-40s, sharing a tiny apartment and fighting over a vapid pretty boy, John, played by Antonio Cupo — who is supposedly a theater director but looks more like a trainer — feels like a degrading spectacle. However old their characters are supposed to be (it’s never really clear), they come off as distinctly too old for this kind of love-triangle nonsense.
This silliness is heightened by the dizzying pace of the decades-spanning narrative, which reduces every conversation to expository dialogue and leaves virtually no time for basic character development. There’s almost no attempt -- save for the odd AOL message or flip phone -- to establish what year it is, or how much time has passed.
The timeline is also muddled to the point of incoherence. CC lands a job on a terrible TV show about depraved nuns, and seemingly within a few weeks amasses enough money to move into a giant house and stoke up a relationship with John. In this same span of time, Hillary moves home to care for her ailing father and marries her on-off boyfriend, Bryan (Colin Lawrence).
The story careens from one melodramatic turning point to the next, without ever establishing a baseline of friendship between CC and Hillary. For something to be upsetting — which is what you want from a tearjerker, after all — it actually has to upset something. You never really buy CC and Hillary as platonic soulmates, and it doesn’t help that the remake has ditched the original’s rather effective framing device (present-day CC rushes abruptly out of pre-concert rehearsals at the Hollywood Bowl after receiving a desperate phone call about Hillary).
Arguably the biggest change is that Hillary, the posh one, is now African American. In theory, this should put an interesting twist on her relationship with Jewish CC, who is from a more hardscrabble upbringing. But a joke or two about CC’s reluctance to sing Christmas carols is as close as “Beaches” gets to insights on racial difference.
Directed by Allison Anders (“Gas Food Lodging”), “Beaches” slams on the brakes in its final act, and -- ironically -- starts to come to life a little bit. I am professionally bound not to discuss the ending, even though doing so would be like revealing the secret of “The Crying Game.” It’s as if Anders -- or, more likely, the executives at Lifetime who dictate these things -- know that the only reason to watch “Beaches” is the tragic third-act twist. Everything else is just setup.
If you make it this far, you may be moved by Menzel’s characteristically volcanic rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” More likely, you’ll just cry from boredom.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
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