Big Business

Big Business. Touchstone Pictures 1988.

Before watching the movie:

I had never heard of this until it came up in a streaming library, and it sounds like the reason why is that nobody was very impressed by it. The concept looks like separated at birth by way of city mouse/country mouse. It’s probably wholly unlike Twins, but it seems like kind of a mirror reflection of it on the surface.

I’m definitely interested to see what they do with Midler and Tomlin both playing double roles. I don’t know if the city/country aspect of it will play all that well. I hope they get some good thematic mileage out of the way that the two sets of twins get to see what they could’ve been like if they grew up in different circumstances.

After watching the movie:

Forty years ago, the limo driver of business executive Hunt Shelton and his wife got lost in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia, and Mrs. Shelton went into labor in the tiny factory town of Jupiter Hollow, where the hospital options were the Hollowmade company hospital three miles away, or the more modern hospital in the next town 40 miles away. As the Hollowmade was only for factory employees and their family, Mr. Shelton bought out Hollowmade entirely, and Mrs. Shelton gave birth to twin girls. Across the hall, local mother Mrs. Ratliff was giving birth to twin girls, and the elderly nurse accidentally swapped a pair of babies. Having overheard the Sheltons decide to name their twins Rose and Sadie, Mr. Ratliff proposes also naming their daughters Rose and Sadie. Now, the Shelton sisters have inherited high ranks in the family business Moramax, though all of the decisions are made by domineering Sadie, and Rose is the shy, ditzy sister who never had a head for business. Sadie Shelton has plans for the company to liquidate their loss generating subsidiary in Jupiter Hollow by selling Hollowmade to the Italian businessman Fabio Alberici, who secretly intends to shutter and demolish the factory and strip mine Jupiter Hollow. Meanwhile, Rose Ratliff is now the foreperson at Jupiter Hollow and the loudest advocate against any meddling from Moramax in her home, while her sister Sadie has always dreamed of an elegant city life and never amounted to much in the hollow. When Rose R. invites Sadie to come on her trip to New York City to protest the sale at the Moramax stock meeting while Sadie S. and her sister Rose are hosting Alberici at the Plaza Hotel, the first in a storm of identity mistakes get the Ratliff sisters swept into the Sheltons’ limousine and checked into their suite at the plaza, believing all the extravagances are Moramax trying to buy their silence. Not taking “we can’t find your key” for an answer, the Sheltons soon get moved into the suite right next to them, and the dance begins.

I was expecting a handful of gags before all was discovered and the plot got to move on with the women grappling with the absurd realities, but the mistaken identities continuing to be mistaken are the entire plot. The entire forward motion comes from people being in the right place with the wrong sister. And it’s more than just 100 minutes of gags. The pacing of what happens when and who is where at what time are very deliberate and just about every scene has at least one development that ratchets the tension higher. It keeps the plates spinning so well I don’t mind that there’s no time for existential crises.

When I saw that Dean Cundey was the cinematographer, I thought “yes, of course. He’s good at shooting for VFX.” But unlike the movie I was expecting, until the last ten or fifteen minutes, there isn’t any need to shoot either actor in two places at once. It’s probably still a major factor in why he was hired though. I also was pleasantly surprised to see Michael Gross, the father from “Family Ties”, as Rose Shelton’s hesitant boyfriend. I’d like to say that Midler and Tomlin get to show range, but really the two personas each of them get to put on are pretty broad. If they had more nuance, it would be harder to tell the twinned characters apart, so it’s fine.

This is a lot of fun, if a bit cartoonish. It’s constantly keeping a lot of things in a holding pattern, yet building forward momentum at the same time. There are a lot of characters in play and they all get their bit, but the leading energies of Tomlin and Midler are what allow this to work. It may not be exemplary, but it’s more than adequate. Underappreciated, but that’s no great tragedy.

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