How Garry Marshall's 'Beaches' Changed My Relationship With My Mom
As it is for many an only child raised in New York, pop culture has always been a major part of my relationship with my parents. With my dad, it's all about sci-fi and superheroes: over the years, we've watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stood in line for every Harry Potter. With my mom, though, it's even simpler: if it's a movie, TV show, or book about female friendship (preferably with some tear-jerking moments), we're in. Together, we've devoured Gilmore Girls and re-read Judy Blume's Summer Sisters countless times. But most of all, we've watched movies: Steel Magnolias, Fried Green Tomatoes, Frances Ha, and — more times than I can count — Beaches .
Directed by Garry Marshall, who passed away on July 20, Beaches is a classic tearjerker in all the best ways. The story of two lifelong friends, C.C. (Bette Midler) and Hillary (Barbara Hershey), Beaches takes the viewer through more than 30 years in the women's lives. There are boyfriends, and children, and big, all-out fights, but most of all, there is the friendship between C.C. and Hillary, two women who discover a bond at age 11 and keep it strong through distance, betrayal, and successful singing careers (C.C.'s, of course). Beaches is no Oscar-winner, sure (it doesn't take a genius to figure out that a tragic illness or accident will befall one of the duo before long), but it's a likable, sweet movie, and one that gets the complexity of female friendship better than any other.
The first time I saw Beaches, I was 11 or 12, sitting on the couch with my mom. She had seen the movie dozens of times before, and she recalled to me how, back in 1988 when it first came out, her 26-year-old self had gone to see it with her best friend, Adam, and both of them had found themselves bawling by the time the credits rolled. She loved Beaches for its plot and its music, yes, but mostly, she loved it for the memory it brought: sitting in a theater with a now-long-gone friend, seeing the extraordinarily close bond the two of them shared reflected on-screen.
As a pre-teen, I couldn't begin to understand the closeness of a friendship like that; I had good pals, sure, but there's only so much complexity to the bonds you make before you've even hit puberty. But I had read enough books and seen enough movies to know that I wanted a friendship like the one in Beaches, and the one my mom had with Adam. Talking to me about him, someone who had practically been an uncle to me as a toddler but who had dropped out of our family's lives before I was old enough to remember, my mom's voice grew emotional; I could tell how hard it was for her to recall the closeness of a friendship that, for reasons out of her control, no longer existed. But I also saw how watching Beaches meant that she could, if only for a few hours, revisit that time in the theater with Adam and all of the feelings it brought.
Watching the movie with my mom, I saw how happy it made her, even when it brought her (and me) to tears. She loved what the movie reminded her of, definitely, but I could see that she also loved that I was sharing the experience with her. She knew that I had never had a friendship of my own that rivaled the one C.C. and Hillary shared in the film, but she also could tell that I understood the importance of that kind of bond, and why having one of her own mattered so much to her. I may not have known Adam myself, but through the stories my mom told me and the memories, like Beaches, that she shared, I felt like I did. It made me closer to my mom, knowing how much, by reminding her of that friendship, Beaches meant to her, and I saw a side of her — that of a 20-something friend, not a mom of a pre-teen — that I never really had before.
Even now, as a 20-something myself, I've never had a friendship quite like the one in Beaches. My best friend and I have gone through our share of fights and issues over the years, but nothing nearly as dramatic as the backstabbing and tragedies that fall upon C.C. and Hillary. But I've come to realize that my mom and Adam's friendship wasn't like that, either; she related to Beaches not because it reminded her exactly of her own bond with her best friend, but because of the feelings it provoked: that of a platonic intimacy so strong and so important that, even years after she last spoke to Adam, she still smiles upon remembering their time in the theater watching Midler sing "Wing Beneath My Wings."
When I think of Beaches now, I think of the movie, yes, and all the things I love about it: the music, the storylines, the final scene that makes me cry every time I watch it. But mostly, I think about my mom, and how sharing this movie together made me understand her in a way I never had before.
Images: Rachel Simon/Bustle; Buena Vista Pictures