Year: 1988
Production Co: All Girl Productions
Studio: Disney
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Mary Agnes Donoghue
Cast: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, Lainie Kazan

One of those movies that has an outsized reputation in movie culture, a one-movie meme (the Bette Midler/Barbara Hershey cancer tearjerker) that you feel familiar with even if you've never seen it.

Along with You've Got Mail and Dirty Dancing, I somehow managed to miss it when it was in cinemas before finally catching up with decades later, and all that was left was to watch how it actually played out after so long assuming I knew everything about it.

It might have been a product of its time but I found it both overly didactic and not very tightly plotted, as if Midler (as producer), director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue started with a mission to make the definitive Better Midler cancer tearjerker and populated it with scenes and characters from there. In fact it was actually based on a novel, which makes the long, winding road full of detours it takes to get to the denouement even stranger.

I also thought it was about a friendship for the ages between CC Bloom (Midler) and Hilary Essex (Hershey) – the likes of which we all dream about having – but the pair connect only now and then, occasionally falling out and not speaking for years at a time. Maybe the intent of the story was actually to show how you can pick some friendships up right where you left off after long absences.

Buttoned down Ivy League-style Hillary and ballsy, outspoken Jewish wannabe singing star CC meet under the Atlantic City boardwalk as kids and hit it off. As Hillary goes back home to college and the life everyone in her family expects of her, CC plays dingy clubs and cheap local theatre in her bid for stardom. When Hillary comes to New York in a rebellious bid to throw her safe, pre-ordained path out the window she moves in with CC and their friendship is cemented.

But as she rises further in her career and CC eventually finds the kind of success she always dreamed about (all by way of several marriages and relationships), their lives go in different directions, only occasionally crossing paths again until circumstances arise that bring about the movie you think you know from its reputation.

And it is indeed a tearjerking scene. The rest of the story just feels like foil to make you care about CC and Hillary so it's all the more sad when the end comes (it's actually cardiomyopathy, not cancer).

I get the impression the legions of silent majority fans love this movie as a guilty pleasure, something to put on to tug heartstrings into submission when you just need a good cry. There's certainly no dramatic or emotional subtlety about it, and the story looks like they set a starting point and an ending point and didn't really care how they got from one to the other as long as it took two hours.

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