LEAD: It begins when an addled nurse in a small West Virginia hospital mixes up two pairs of newborn identical twins, sending each set of parents home with a mismatched pair of baby girls. By chance, both families name their twins Sadie and Rose, who, in a casting inspiration, grow up to be played by Bette Midler and Lily
It begins when an addled nurse in a small West Virginia hospital mixes up two pairs of newborn identical twins, sending each set of parents home with a mismatched pair of baby girls. By chance, both families name their twins Sadie and Rose, who, in a casting inspiration, grow up to be played by Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin.
This is the expectant premise of Jim Abrahams‘s ”Big Business,” which, though it never quite delivers the boffo payoff, is a most cheerful, very breezy summer farce, played to the hilt by two splendidly comic performers. The film opens today at the Cinema II and other theaters.
Sadie Shelton (Miss Midler) is the overbearing, ruthless chief executive officer of the family’s Moramax company, a shining momument to corporate greed. Rose Shelton (Miss Tomlin) is her sister’s loyal if faint-hearted first lieutenant, a woman who would much rather be cooking or knitting than worrying about junk bonds.
Their sisters are Sadie and Rose Ratliff, raised in rural innocence in Jupiter Hollow, W.Va., a one-company town whose economic life is threatened when Moramax announces it is selling the Hollowmade Furniture Company to an Italian speculator.
As the predatory Sadie makes all the decisions for the twin sisters in New York, it is the ecology-minded, justice-seeking Rose Ratliff (Miss Tomlin) who is the dominant sister in West Virginia. Unlike the earnest Rose, Sadie Ratliff somehow feels out of place in Jupiter Hollow. She dreams of the big city and bright lights and couldn’t care less about ecology.
It’s Rose who organizes the town’s protest to the takeover and drags her starry-eyed sister off to Manhattan, where, by glorious chance, the two sets of twins wind up in adjoining suites at the Plaza. The comic possibilities are not exactly numberless, but they are multiple, more or less in relation to the number of doors (bedroom, bathroom, elevator) in any one scene. To complicate matters further, each sister has a suitor of sorts who, finally, finds happiness with a twin other than the one he started out with.
If Miss Midler gets most of the big laughs, that’s pretty much built into the Dori Pierson-Marc Rubel screenplay, which depends as much on snappy one-liners as on mistaken identities.
Tippy-toeing around on perilously high heels, her top-heavy frame in ever-precarious balance, Miss Midler is a fiendish delight, both as Sadie Shelton cutting a pretty secretary down to size (”That dress looks like a blood clot”), and as her country sister, yodeling accompaniment to some West Indian street musicians on Fifth Avenue.
Compared with the two flamboyant Sadies played by Miss Midler, for whom polka dots may well have been invented, Miss Tomlin’s two Roses are reserved but no less funny. There is a sly modesty in Miss Tomlin’s characterizations that works as sweet counterpoint to Miss Midler’s all-out clowning. In one of the best sequences in the film, the city Rose finds herself being happily courted by the country Rose’s suitor, a miniature-golf champ played in fine, broad, down-home style by Fred Ward.
Also providing excellent farcical support are Edward Herrmann, as a stuffy, suit-and-vest type of corporate officer, and Michele Placido, as the handsome Italian speculator for whom the city Sadie falls after initially summing him up as ”Euro-trash.”
Dean Cundey‘s photography is so effective, and the editing so slick, that not until the movie is over does one wonder how the camera tricks were achieved. The film’s writers and Mr. Abrahams, whose first solo credit this is (he co-directed ”Airplane!” and ”Ruthless People” with David and Jerry Zucker), sometimes do have trouble in characterizing the two sets of twins, allowing them to blend in such a way that the comic edge finally becomes blurred.
Yet the film moves at such a clip, and with such uncommon zest, that it’s good fun even when the invention wears thin. ”Big Business” is no ”Comedy of Errors” (to which it is distantly related), which should be taken as praise.