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Big Business


‘…Midler is in her element here; she’s the motor that keeps Big Business on track to deliver on the promise of double trouble…’

You can’t keep a game gal down. Arguably the cultural highpoint of 2023 so far has to be Jane Fonda getting in touch with her inner first-grader and chucking a supposedly prestigious scroll like a tomahawk at the departing bonce of a French film-maker as part of the traditionally chaotic closing ceremony at Cannes; if you missed it, there’s a link here. Female movie stars love trouble, and we seem to love watching them get into it; how else can you explain away casting two Bette Midlers and two Lily Tomlins in the same film? Yes, the old Shakespearian ‘identical twins’ chestnut gets a make-over here in Jim Abrahams’ film, originally developed for Barbara Streisand and Goldie Hawn. Big Business was promoted with an impressive feat of special effects, a scene in which the two sets of twins meet in a plush hotel bathroom, but that doesn’t happen until the last ten minutes; building to that reveal takes a good ninety minutes of very convoluted plotting.

Disney’s more adult imprint Touchstone were on quite a roll of Midler hits at the time with Ruthless People and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Big Business certainly works as another Midler showcase. She plays Sadie Shelton and Sadie Ratliff, two identical twins who got inadvertently switched; Sadie Shelton is a prosperous businesswoman in Manhattan while Sadie Ratliff lives in the sticks in Jupiter’s Hollow and can’t quite find her place in life. Each girl has a sister; Rose Ratliff enjoys the country community, but her sister Rose Shelton can’t adjust to the high faluting ways of the city. The two sets of twins face off when the country cousins come to NYC to stave off corporate interest in strip-mining their little town, with the Ratliff girls mistaken for the Shelton sisters while they stay in the same hotel…

Big Business has one complicated set up; it’s genuinely hard to keep a track of four different characters, two of whom look exactly like another two. It’s also hard to understand their different issues, particularly when they are dressing like and pretending to be each other; as light relief, there’s also roles for Gilmore Girls star Edward Hermann, Fred Ward as a crazy-crazy-golf obsessive and all kinds of other distractions. The special effects are ingenious and well developed, but there’s probably not enough actual comedy despite good energy; most of the potential for slapstick misunderstandings is kept under wraps until the end. There’s some kind of nature vs nurture theory buried in here, but other than suggesting that people don’t achieve what they might when taken out of their family/social group, there’s not much to chew on.

Big Business is a bright and cheerful film that probably works best for early teens; it’s hardly insightful about the ways of women in modern business, but chimes into classic Hollywood stories of how the little guy or gal can take on corporate interests and run out a winner. Tomlin rarely found roles deserving of her comedic talents, but Midler is in her element here; she’s the motor that keeps Big Business on track to deliver on the promise of double trouble. And Hocus Pocus 3 is apparently in the pipeline, so there’s that to keep us going for now…


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  1. Missed this altogether thank goodness. The prospect of twice as much from either would not fill me glee. Bette Midler pretty much was a one-trick pony and somehow I never took to Lily Tomlin.

    • Tough crowd. I do like Midler, but this wouldn’t be top of my list of persuasive texts.

  2. Midler means an automatic nope from me. I don’t find her amusing and I can’t think of a movie that she’s starred in that I’ve enjoyed. Of course, I can’t remember a movie that she’s starred in that I remember watching either.

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