Single mother and mouthy waitress Stella is the only means by which her daughter will be a success in the world, and Stella knows it. Following from the torment of teenage years through to the grown-up responsibilities of adulthood, Stella does her best to see that Jenny gets the best out of life, culminating in selfless sacrifice.
Fresh from Outrageous Fortune and Beaches, Bette Midler then tackled the title role of Stella, a wise-cracking barmaid from Watertown whose brief affair with cheesy kidney doctor Stephen Dallas lands her with one "in the bin". Fiercely proud, she elects to raise the kid by herself in a grubby apartment that even the cockroaches have abandoned. Daughter grows up, mum grows old, dad makes new life, grows richer and cheesier, daughter visits him, then mum finds lowly background is impeding daughter's ambition. What should she do? What would you do?
Well, for a start, you could think twice about seeing this film. It has little of the emotional weight of King Vidor's 1937 version, instead trying to offset the pathos with comedy, often with unintentionally hilarious results. Over 20 years, Midler shifts from a free spirit in alarming flares and funny waistcoats to a fag-ash Lil with varicose veins, and she doesn't so much play the role as attack it, treating every scene as though it were a curtain call, seemingly always on the edge of laughter or tears.
John Goodman makes the most of a depressing part as her long-time, fat, boozy soul-mate, and Alvarado convinces as the daughter, but they're all overwhelmed by Bette who strides through the film like a sagging colossus, snatching unnecessary emotional highs and lows out of the air, blinking away superfluous tears, and generally hamming it up.
Erman could have made a movie that left the Bette Midler stereotype in the eighties where it belonged, but he didn't. Great if you're a Bette fan, somewhat trying if you're not, though thankfully some of the sheer hamminess has been dulled with time.