A Child Of The 80’s Visits “Old Friends” Midler & Tomlin!
Directed by Jim Abrahams/ 1988
Street Date May 1, 2018/ Kino-Lorber Studio Classics
Jim Abrahams’ 1988 Big Business was meant to be a fast paced, slap-stick comedy in the styles of Abbott and Costello and the Marx Brothers. In fact they thought it might be the vehicle for a Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler trilogy of comedic mishaps! (I WISH!) Instead the borrowed, bumbling routines and the unfinished ending feel like a total let down especially with the talents of Tomlin and Midler involved!
But here’s the thing, I LOVE THIS DISASTER OF A FILM! I remember watching Big Business as a 11 year old in 6th grade. I was obsessed with Midler’s giant hair and polka-dot suits and I had been a big fan of Tomlin’s hilarity since 9 to 5 and The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Neither of those opinions have changed a bit, I might go get an 80’s perm this weekend! As a budding preteen I didn’t care about endings and themes and the constant cheesiness made me giggle. And so, I’m torn! The nostalgic side of me wants to cheer on Big Business as a comedic dance while the current middle-aged film buff wants to roll her eyes.
Nature vs. Nurture
For those not familiar with Big Business, here’s the basic idea. it’s 1948 and two sets of identical twin girls are born in the small town of Jupiter Hollow on the same night! One set to the wealthy Shelton’s of New York City and the other set to the impoverished Ratliff family that lives just up the road. The small hospital is so overwhelmed by all these baby girls that the elderly nurse mixes up the twins and both sets end up with a Rose (Lily Tomlin and Lily Tomlin) and a Sadie (Bette Midler and Bette Midler). Forty years later the Shelton sisters are running their father’s business and they decide to sell the small Hollowmade Factory in Jupiter Hollow that their father bought the night they were born. The sale and stripping of the company will destroy the town so the Ratliff sisters are on their way to NYC to save the day! The majority of the movie takes place in New York, specifically at the Plaza Hotel with many mix ups between the staff and the sets of twins.
The question of “Nature vs. Nurture” is alluded to in Big Business and there’s a balance between genes and environment! Each set has a dominant sister and a sibling willing to submit. One Sadie is ruthless and savvy while the other is bubbly but fairly thick. And Rose from Jupiter Hollow is tough and street smart while New York Rose is clumsy and kind-natured. And there are romances involved too, an ex-husband, an Italian Businessman, a mini-golf champion and a fiancé! But the men are side characters and their stories are of little consequence. (One of the problems with the film, keep reading below.) What makes you… you, who will end up with who and will the little town of Jupiter Hollow be saved? These are the main plot points in Big Business.
Mainly, Big Business is Jim Abrahams (Airplane! Police Squad! Hot Shots! Why does everything have to have an exclamation point? Is Abrahams a millennial? Or me!) trying to give these comedic queens a shot at a fun romp in line with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And the idea is great, Midler is brilliant and Tomlin is hilarious but the foundation of the film fell apart at the end. Either the writers, Dori Pierson and Marc Rubel, or the director just grew tired and decided after 97 minutes that it’s time to wrap this thing up and… “They all lived happily ever after!” Too much time is given to the comedic choreography and not to the relationships and the story. That’s where Big Business fails. And no, not every relationship has to be spelled out completely in an hour and a half but you can’t have a character getting engaged to a stranger just because everyone needs to pair up. It just feels rushed and unresolved, why wasn’t there a scene where the twins talk about how they are alike or marvel at their different upbringings? This, this quick and disappointing ending is the demise of Big Business.
But let me shift gears for just a bit and talk about why Big Business is a whole lot of fun, especially if you are in your thirties or forties!!!
The Main Characters, Costumes and 80’s Culture
Let’s start with the line, “This is how we dress for the office? You look like a blood clot!” Oh Man, Midler’s Sadie Shelton terrorizes her workers as the head of her late father’s business. She’s storms in and out of offices and looks fabulous in the process. Her real life twin, Sadie from Jupiter Hollow, longs for the glamour and style of New York City while milking a cow and yodeling “Kick them in their little Ole-Ee-Hoos!” in pink heels. In Big Business Midler and Tomlin both are able to portray two totally different people, it’s effortless on their part! The physical humor given by these legends is hysterical and makes me want to do a deep dive into their filmography. And the costume department did these ladies right! The sexy polka-dots constantly on both Sadies and the flowing, modest pinks on the Roses are perfection. Every detail is used to the max from hats that hide darting eyes to bracelets that replicate a rattlesnake. Bravo costume designer Michael Kaplan, bravo!
And Big Business is dated, we are definitely back in the 80’s, from giant car phones and the Twin Towers to shoulder pads falling out of place and Lee Press-On Nails. I’m instantly transported to a time when all music had a saxophone solo! Oh, the closing song is Steve Winwood’s Higher Love, good grief, it’s so RAD! And the 80’s actors that I miss!! Siblings Michael Gross (Family Ties) and Mary Gross (Baby Boom, Troop Beverly Hills) play small parts and the fantastic Edward Herrmann (Annie, Overboard, The Lost Boys) is New York Sadie’s assistant that never gets anything right. A 14 year old Seth Green even shows up as Sadie’s delinquent son! If you’re loving the 80’s, you grew up in it like me and nostalgia kicks in or you’re a millennial and your obsessed with all things acid washed, then Big Business will totally satisfy!
Kino-Lorber has re-released Big Business on Blu-Ray with some fun extras! There are original Theater Trailers for Big Business, Mafia!, Delirious, and Moving Violations. I loved watching these old trailers and remembering back to a world full of John Candy, Lloyd Bridges and loads of slap-stick! There’s also an audio commentary by director Jim Abrahams and moderated by Producer Elijah Drenner which is a treasure. It’s wonderful to hear how they landed the leads, what other actresses were considered and how they intentionally left room for Midler and Tomlin to create four distinct characters. Drenner asks Abrahams what it’s like to watch Big Business after all these years and he responds with, “It’s like visiting an old friend.” Preach brother! Watching Big Business is a whole lot of fun and this Blu-ray is a must for all you Gen-Xers out there!