Adapted by Mary Agnes Donoghue from Iris Rainer Dart's novel, and produced by Bonnie Bruckheimer-Martell and Margaret Jennings South, Beaches epitomises the sort of triple-strength, three-hankie work you can expect from American women with three names and gives the lie to those who thought they stopped making women's pic heartstring-tuggers like Old Acquaintance or Mr Skeffington in the 1940s.
Midler is more often given to singing comic songs about brassieres than Bette Davis or Greer Garson used to be, but her character is given just as many chances to have emotional crises, overcome her innate selfishness and egomania and put down a succession of foils with waspish remarks. And Barbara Hershey, fresh from a series of silicone implants which did a Dorian Gray trick to her face, models tasteful high fashions, swings her gorgeous hair and dies with utmost dignity. Husbands, lovers and business associates pop up and then disappear from their lives, but they still have each other, and are finally able to share in the raising of Hillary's daughter. John Heard gets stuck with the Claude Rains role, standing about devotedly and letting the women get all the big scenes.
The bravura performances are undeniably watchable even during the inevitable fade-away-and-die finale, and the early, comic stretches - particularly an Atlantic City sequence starring the astonishing Mayim Bialik as the 11-year-old Midler - are refreshingly breezy.