The Daily Stream: Big Business Is A Switched-At-Birth Comedy That Lets Bette Midler And Lily Tomlin Shine
BY BJ COLANGELO
FEB. 8, 2022 5:00 PM EST
‘Big Business’ Where Can I Watch Midler & Tomlin Shine?
The Pitch: In 1948, the wealthy businessman Hunt Shelton and his pregnant wife are lost on a drive through West Virginia. When Mrs. Shelton goes into labor near the tiny town of Jupiter Hollow, they wind up at the closest hospital, which is the exclusive hospital for the employees of Hollowmade furniture company. Desperate to get his wife in a hospital bed, Mr. Hunt buys the company and Mrs. Shelton gives birth to a set of twin girls. At the same time, the impoverished Ratliff couple shows up, delivering a set of twins of their own, and also naming the girls “Sadie and Rose” after overhearing the Sheltons in the other room. There’s only one problem, the elderly nurse at Jupiter Hollow Hospital mixes up the twins, with both families leaving with a child belonging to the others. Now, 40 years later, the wealthy set of twins (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) find themselves in a business deal that would result in the closing of a factory in Jupiter Hollow, and upon hearing the news, the twin farmer girls (also Midler and Tomlin) travel to New York City to try and stop the sale and save the company that employs most of their community.
Why Big Business Is Essential Viewing
I’m a sucker for any modern interpretation of a classic tale, and “Big Business” is a combination of three — Aesop’s “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” and Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors.” Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin get the chance to showcase the same characters in wildly different circumstances. Tomlin’s Rose Shelton vies for a simpler life than her corporate existence in the city, while Rose Ratliff is thriving in Jupiter Hollow. Sadie Shelton is a cutthroat businesswoman in New York City that strikes fear in the hearts of those beneath her, while Sadie Ratliff longs for the glamorous city life.
Aside from the fact it’s hilarious that no one ever thought to question why the twins brought home look nothing like each other, “Big Business” is a really well-structured comedy of errors with plenty of fish-out-of-water hijinks and goofy moments of mistaken identity. Critics were admittedly harsh on the film upon release, rejecting the clear camp nature of the events. Bette Midler yodels while milking a cow, for crying out loud, and watching pre-” Tremors” co-stars Michael Gross and Fred Ward both acting as the love interests of the respective Roses pushes the film into a fun world of meta-humor.
Heart of Anti-Capitalism
The set of twins crosses paths during an extremely difficult circumstance, with the Shelton sisters’ company set to shut down the Jupiter Hollow factory to strip-mine the land, displacing the entire community and leaving them all unemployed. Look, capitalism is the Big Bad responsible for just about everything wrong in the world, and the unfortunate reality is that the problems tackled in “Big Business” are still problems even today. Rose Ratliff is sharp-tongued and willing to do whatever it takes to save Jupiter Hollow, frequently mouthing off at suits she’s supposed to be trying to impress, and Rose Shelton (Ratliff’s twin who was raised in the city) has never felt comfortable with the idea of tearing down a small town for unnecessary profit. Sadie Ratliff doesn’t really enjoy living in Jupiter Hollow but knows how severe the damage would be for her hometown if it were shut down, which is why the three women inevitably lock Sadie Shelton, the only one not fully on board, in the closet, while Sadie Ratliff impersonates her in front of their big meeting.
When the sisters finally have to plead with their company’s shareholders not to make the sale and not to shut down the factory, they do so not by pleading with the lives and land of Jupiter Hollow, but instead by reminding them that the company has an image problem and denying the sale is the best way to “cover their asses” from bad press. “Big Business” not only points out the awful ways that corporations destroy communities, but also the awful games that need to be played in order to get through to out-of-touch, rich, jerks.
Bette Midler & Lily Tomlin: Sometimes We Need Silly Simplicity
Let me be frank, here — Dori Pierson and Marc Reid Rubel’s screenplay is silly in the purest ways possible. The humor never feels mean-spirited; it’s a clean-enough watch for the whole family to enjoy. Bette Midler is in one of her hammiest performances yet, and Tomlin’s wide-eyed wonderment is downright infectious. While Midler and Tomlin are the stars of the show, most of the humor is centered on the gaggle of men caught up in the accidental twin mischief. Director Jim Abrahams has seamlessly paced the constant near-misses, wardrobe changes, and a revolving door of confused men, providing a farce grounded in reality.
Just before the two sets of twins become aware the others exist (in a bathroom mirror, because of course) there is a stunning rotation of the four women at a hotel breakfast, with the sisters inevitably getting mixed up with one another without realizing it. Sure, the computer tech used when all four of them are finally in the same place reeks of 1988, but watching Midler and Tomlin mug at the camera more than covers up any technical hiccups. Mistaken identity films played by the same actor have been having a resurgence in recent years thanks to films like “The Princess Switch” series, but “Big Business” is one of the best examples, even if it’s one pop culture easily forgot … likely because Midler released “Beaches” the same year.