Monday, August 19, 2013

Big Business (1988)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, originally rented from Scarecrow Video in Seattle.

When I found out that there was an 80's comedy starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as two sets of twins separated at birth, YOU BET YOUR ASS I made it my mission to see it. Weirdly, it took me a little while to actually get a copy but now here we are, and I have fully taken in the strange, silly thing that is Big Business. Born in the same small, rural hospital on the same day, two sets of identical twins are accidentally separated into two sets of supposedly fraternal twins, and raised in two very different environments. Sadie (Bette Midler) and Rose (Lily Tomlin) Shelton are brought up in a very wealthy family living in New York City, and eventually the ruthless Sadie becomes head of her parents' company with the flighty, nervous Rose quietly sitting in the background. Meanwhile, Sadie (Midler again) and Rose (Tomlin again) Ratliff grow up in Jupiter Hollow, a poor rural community with an economy reliant on a local factory. When she hears that the factory is going to be shut down, Rose Ratliff heads to New York with hedonistic sister Sadie in tow, aiming to take her arguments straight to the head of the company that owns the factory- none other than Sadie Shelton! After various miscommunications and cases of mistaken identity, the twins are all holed up in the same fancy hotel, barely missing each other and confusing the hell out of everyone around them before they finally figure out they each have doubles.

It should probably be immediately clear to you that this movie is RIDICULOUS. Like, probably one of the silliest movies I've ever seen. Which is something I liked about it, though I'll admit it didn't quite live up to my expectations. It has many awesome elements- rad costumes, funny dialogue, a few interesting subplots, and of course absolutely fantastic lead actresses. It's also always exciting to have a female-dominated comedy that isn't overly focused on romance (though that's an element, too). I'm pretty much equally enamored of Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler, and having two each just made me grin a lot. They both seem to be having fun in their dual roles, with Tomlin alternating between brazen activist and anxious sweetheart, and Midler switching between wide-eyed, wannabe debutante and cold-hearted businesswoman.

There's a bit of satire thrown in there, aimed at their varied regional and class backgrounds, but the script is more intent on creating these ludicrous farcical scenarios that result in so many mixed messages and confused identities. I mean, you know me, I love a good mistaken identities comedy, and I do enjoy shenanigans in general. I'm not panning the premise at all, but I did feel like the execution wasn't the best. On paper this movie sounded amazing, while in practice it was cute but nothing spectacular. I'm not even sure why I didn't love it, maybe the script could have been punchier, the pace could have been more frantic, the jokes more clever, or a combination. I'm definitely glad I finally got to see Big Business, and I appreciate it for so many reasons, just didn't live up to what I envisioned in my head!

One final thought: I was pretty impressed with the gay side characters, because their sexuality was just a facet of their personalities and not a major plot point, and not played for jokes. They're bumbling business associates living in fear of Bette Midler, who happen to be a romantic couple! I know it doesn't sound like a big deal, but to me it's always worth noting when an 80's comedy doesn't resort to stereotyping! (Or really, any movie, from any time.)


Pair This Movie With: Of course my first thought was a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie for more twin mix-ups, probably It Takes Two which has some similar class themes. Or, perhaps another silly romp with mistaken identities like The Impostors, which I'm pretty much always in the mood to watch. Lindsay suggested Ruthless People, which I haven't seen but it's another Bette Midler comedy and I trust Lindsay so I bet that'd be a great double feature.