Re-Watch: Big Business (1988)

Big Business
Director: Jim Abrahams
Writer: Dori Pierson, Marc Reid Rubel
Cast: Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, Edward Herrmann, Michele Placido, Daniel Gerroll, Barry Primus, Michael Gross
Seen on: 24.4.2020

One night in a small town hospital in Jupiter Hollow, two very different pairs of parents each have a set of twin girls. In the confusion, two babies get switched. 40 years later, Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Shelton (Bette Midler) have taken over the family company in New York that still owns a company in Jupiter Hollow. But they want to sell it. Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Ratcliff (Bette Midler) who grew up in a poor family in Jupiter Hollow and know that the entire town depends on the local company not being sold, decide to go to New York to confront the Sheltons and stop the sale. But given the circumstances around their birth, things are bound to get very confusing.

Big Business is one of my total-flashback-to-my-childhood movies. I think we had a VHS tape with Big Business and Ruthless People (for the Bette Midler double whammy) and it feels like we watched it once a week. We probably didn’t because TV time was very limited, but I’m sure I’ve seen the film a lot, although I haven’t seen it in 20 years, if not more. I definitely never saw it as an adult or in English. So, even though everything was very familiar about the film, it was also a very different experience. I might not love it as much anymore as I did as a child, but it is still very entertaining.

The film poster showing Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Shelton (Bette Midler) on one side and Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Ratcliff (Bette Midler) on the other side.

Big Business doesn’t have the most intricate of plots – the usual comedy of error stuff – and the resolution is a little too smooth for my taste, but it is fast-paced enough that you don’t really notice those things as the film moves along.

And really, even if the plot was even more non-sensical – can you really go wrong with a film that not only has Tomlin and Middler, but has them twice? I don’t think so. They are amazing together and it’s just fun to watch them and their very different characters.

Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Shelton (Bette Midler) at the hotel reception.

Of course, if you look at the film more seriously (definitely more seriously than the people making it ever did), it is interesting in what it thinks about what is nature and what is nurture – that country!Sadie longs to be in the city and have pretty things, while city!Rose is happiest in nature and loves animals, for example, suggests that whether you’re a country or a city person is somehow encrypted in your DNA. (I doubt it.)

But there is no need to take the film that seriously. I had a great time just leaning back to enjoy it and to see what I still remembered about the film (Midler’s yodling! The bathroom scene! The boyfriend switcheroo!) and what I missed as a kid (the company hospital! The gay couple!).

Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Ratcliff (Bette Midler) in the hotel.

Summarizing: Super entertaining.

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