BetteBack June 10, 1988: Midler Takes Charge In Big Business

Big Business
By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 10, 1988


Snow White reportedly flew into a snit when she heard Bette Midler had been signed to a fourth Disney feature. “Fasten your seat belts, boys and girls,” chirped the 50-year-old fairy tale princess. “It’s going to be a frumpy night.”
With her Rubenesque abundance, Midler does look Petunia Piggish as she prisses through this latest screwball farce, truly queen in the Magic Kingdom. Though paired with Lily Tomlin, Midler takes charge in “Big Business,” waltzing off with this amiably sputtering tale of star-crossed twins while Tomlin is about as animated as Miss White during her 100-year rest period.

As twins go, these two are no Minneapolis-St. Paul. The understated Tomlin, overpowered by Midler’s kitsch and swish, was better off opposite John Travolta. The actresses are, in fact, as mismatched as their fictional counterparts, Rose and Sadie Shelton and Rose and Sadie Ratliff, identical twins split up at birth by a myopic country nurse who earlier mistook the urine samples for apple juice.

The Sadies (Midler) are the spawn of wealthy Mrs. Shelton, a New Yorker who went into labor on the way through hicky Jupiter Hollow. “That was the ickiest, messiest, most primitive experience I’ve ever had,” was her postpartum comment. The Roses (Tomlin) were born to a slow-normal, raw-boned local couple, who work for the Hollowmade Furniture Co., a subsidiary of the Shelton-owned Moramax conglomerate. Years later, Sadie Shelton, Moramax’s lantern-jawed, polka-dotted-to-die-for, cutthroat CEO, prepares to sell Hollowmade to an Italian strip-mining operative. Her wan sister Rose, inclined to lace and cameos, bends to her sister’s wishes, dreaming of country sunsets, porch swings and vegetable gardens.

When news of the imminent sale reaches Jupiter Hollow, Rose Ratliff, the factory’s feisty foreman, rallies the workers. With proceeds from a quilt sale and country jamboree, Rose determines to speak her piece at the stockholders’ meeting in New York. Her kittenish sister Sadie, who loves “Dynasty” and Dior, goes with her sister, not to stop Moramax, but to escape the hollow. Pursued by Roone (Fred Ward), the peewee golf pro who loves her, the dowdy, hardheaded Rose and her sister arrive at La Guardia, where they are mistaken for the Sheltons by a suave Italian mining magnate (Michele Placido).

You can, of course, guess what happens next, but you don’t have to. This classic comedy of errors is over-structured by cousin-writers Dori Pierson and Marc Rubel and mechanically laid out by director Jim Abrahams. Though he’s codirected such loony larks as “Airplane!” and “Ruthless People,” this is Abrahams’ first solo project. It’s surprisingly cautious, a sex farce with twin beds.

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