Big Business (1988 film)

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Big Business
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jim Abrahams
Produced by Michael Peyser
Steve Tisch
Written by Dori Pierson
Marc Reid Rubel
Music by Lee Holdridge
Cinematography Dean Cundey
Edited by Harry Keramidas
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • June 10, 1988 (1988-06-10)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $40,150,487

Big Business is a 1988 American comedy film farce starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin (each playing two roles). The movie revolves around two sets of identical female twins who were mismatched at birth, with one ending in a wealthy urban family (the Sheltons) and the other in a poor rural family (the Ratliffs). It was produced by Touchstone Pictures, with the plot loosely based on The Comedy of Errors (1589–1594) by William Shakespeare.

The film co-stars Fred Ward, Edward Herrmann and includes many guest roles including Joe Grifasi and Seth Green. Michael Gross and sister Mary Gross also appear. Directed by Jim Abrahams, critical reaction to the film as a whole was generally lukewarm. Midler received an American Comedy Award in the category Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture for her performance in 1989.[1]


Sometime in the late 1940s, wealthy businessman Hunt Shelton and his heavily pregnant wife get lost in the middle of West Virginia looking for some friends' summer house when Mrs. Shelton goes into labor. They end up going to the Jupiter Hollow Hospital but the doctor will not check them in because it is exclusively for employees of Hollowmade, the local furniture maker. Mr. Shelton buys the company on the spot. The Ratliffs, an impoverished couple, arrive moments later with Mrs. Ratliff also in labor. Both women give birth to twin girls. The doctor tends both births at the same time, and the elderly nurse gets confused and mixes the babies. Mr. Ratliff overhears the Sheltons deciding to name their daughters Rose and Sadie, and suggests the same names to his wife.

40 years later, the Shelton sisters are now co-chairwomen of Moramax, a giant conglomerate that is the successor to their father's business interests. Sadie Shelton (Midler) is focused on her career and the conglomerate's profits to the detriment of her family life. She also spoils her bad-mannered son Jason (Seth Green), something her ex-husband Michael (Barry Primus) can not tolerate. Rose Shelton (Tomlin) wishes for a simpler life in the country tending her family and a little farm, which caused a breakup with her boyfriend, Dr. Jay Marshall (Michael Gross). As part of her business plan, Sadie plans to sell Hollowmade, which still manufactures wood furniture, but must get her stockholders approval to proceed.

Meanwhile, Rose Ratliff (Tomlin) has risen to the office of forewoman at the Hollowmade Factory, and is also very career-driven. Her sister Sadie Ratliff (Midler) has always felt misplaced in rural life and wishes for a more sophisticated life in a big city. In her capacity as forewoman, Rose finds out Moramax's plans and fears that the off-loading of the company would bring ruin to the people of Jupiter Hollow. She makes plans to travel to New York City and stop the sale. Wanting to see (and stay in) the city, Sadie agrees to join her sister.

In New York, Sadie Shelton is planning the shareholders' meeting and is trying to hide the fact that the residents of Jupiter Hollow oppose the sale of the company. Her employee, Graham Sherbourne (Edward Herrmann) is reading a letter from Rose Ratliff (which she signs "R. Ratliff") about her plans of coming to New York and stop the sale. Sadie orders Sherbourne to locate the Ratliffs and stop them from appearing at the meeting.

At the JFK Airport, the Shelton sisters arrive in their limousine to pick up the prospective buyer of Hollowmade, Mr. Fabio Alberici. The Ratliff sisters arrive at the same time at the airport and meet Mr. Alberici (who knows them from the Sheltons' picture in the Moramax's annual report), and they take a ride back into the city in the Sheltons' limousine, leaving the Shelton sisters stranded at the airport. They attempt to take a taxi, until Rose finds they don't have much money, and the Shelton sisters are thrown out of the cab.

Once at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, the Ratliffs are checked into the Sheltons' suite, and the Sheltons are forced to take the subway to reach the hotel. When they finally get there all pooped out, the desk clerk sets them up in the room next door to their usual suite, much to Sadie's chagrin.

Mr. Alberici finally meets Sadie Shelton, but she believes at the beginning that he was offering sex services when he said that the purpose of their business "was understood"; once the faux pas has been cleared up, they strike a mutual attraction. On the other side, Sadie Ratliff meets her twin's former husband and son; her more humble demeanor appeals to him, and they also strike up an attraction.

In the meantime, Rose Ratliff has been trying to make Moramax's stockholders aware of Jupiter Hollow's opposition to the off-loading of their company and meets Dr. Jay (Rose Shelton's former boyfriend), with whom she strikes an attraction, while Rose Shelton meets Roone Dimmick (Fred Ward), her twin's boyfriend, who came all the way from Jupiter Hollow to propose to Rose Ratliff.

In the meantime, Graham and his assistant (who is also his boyfriend) have managed to retain Roone in their own suite (assuming that he is "R. Ratliff"), but early in the morning they come to realize (inside an elevator filled with people) that they should have been looking for women. At the same time, Rose Ratliff is having breakfast and meets with Sadie Shelton; the latter assumes that Rose is her more humble sister and takes over the conversation, and they prepare to go to the shareholders' meeting at one of the hotel's conference rooms. A little later, Sadie Ratliff also meets with Rose Shelton at the same table in the same restaurant (in the meantime, both Sadies have bought the same outfit from the hotel boutique and thus appear virtually identical, except for a very similar haircut).

All sisters discover their mixup in the bathroom. The Ratliffs, with the assistance of Rose Shelton, trap Sadie Shelton in the broom closet. Rose Shelton and Sadie Ratliff attend the shareholders' meeting and succeed in stopping the sale of Jupiter Hollow. Afterwards, both sets of twins come out of the elevator to find their loved ones waiting for them, who are confused with which twin is which. They each then leave the Plaza with their newfound love.

First to leave the hotel is Sadie Shelton, who takes off with Fabio on a private vacation. Sadie Ratliff leaves with her twin's ex-husband Michael to start a relationship as she enjoyed the city life. Rose Ratliff leaves with Dr. Jay and starts an apparent relationship. Finally, Rose Shelton leaves with Roone, hinting to live in Jupiter Hollow in a country lifestyle.

As they all leave, the homeless man who's noticed the pair of twins gets a shock when he sees a successful business man come out, hinting he may also have a twin, which surprises the business man. Meanwhile, during the credits the desk clerk (Joe Grifasi), gets a surprise. He was featured to show an attraction to Sadie Ratliff, but would mix her up with her twin. He'd be shocked that triplets want to check in.



The Plaza and its International Modern style neighbors as seen in the film.

The movie was originally written for Barbra Streisand (Midler's role) and Goldie Hawn (Tomlin's role). The plot is a coincidental and playful combination of three previously recognizable stories: Aesop's The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.

The production company couldn't get the rights to film at the actual Plaza Hotel in New York City, so it had the hotel recreated on sound stages. To recoup construction costs, Disney built a sitcom called The Nutt House around it. It was an expensive flop. Jim Abrahams said he staged one of the boardroom scenes based on an experience he had when a large agency used many employees to get him to sign with them.


Critical reaction to the film as a whole was generally lukewarm. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 34% of critics gave the film a positive rating, based on 14 reviews, with an average score of 4.9/10.[2] Sheila Benson from The Los Angeles Times called Big Business a "bright whirligig of a movie" and added: "As you watch its buoyant hilarity, the intricacies flow smoothly as honey off a spoon [...] Like a sensational party the night before, "Big Business" may not bear the closest scrutiny in the cold light of day, but it gives an irresistible glow at the time. And when it gets on a roll, it's a movie with more wit to its lines and a more pungent array of them than much of the mishmash that has passed as Bette Midler's Greatest Movie Hits."[3] Philadelphia Daily News writer Ben Yagoda felt that the film was "big fun. Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler are a double dose of hilarity. Call out the National GuardBig Business is a laugh riot".[4]

In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby remarked that Big Business, "though it never quite delivers the boffo payoff, is a most cheerful, very breezy summer farce, played to the hilt by two splendidly comic performers [...] Sometimes [the film's writers] do have trouble in characterizing the two sets of twins, allowing them to blend in such a way that the comic edge finally becomes blurred. Yet the film moves at such a clip, and with such uncommon zest, that it's good fun even when the invention wears thin."[5] Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two out of four stars. He declared the film "an endless and dreary series of scenes in which the various twins just barely miss running into each other in the Plaza Hotel," and found that it felt "unfinished" and missed a payoff.[6] Variety called the film "a shrill, unattractive comedy." The staff felt that Midler's "loud brashness generally dominated [Tomlin's] sly skittishness".[7]

Box office[edit]

In the United States, Big Business debuted within the top three on the box-office chart and became a modest success, eventually grossing $40,150,487 during its domestic run.[8][9][10]

Home Media[edit]

The film was released to VHS and laserdisc in 1990 by Touchstone Home Video, with a DVD release in 2002. In 2011, Big Business was among a selection of titles from Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures to be licensed to Mill Creek Entertainment and a DVD and Blu-ray disc were released of the film. The DVD is available on its own, as a double-feature with Straight Talk, and as a triple-feature with Straight Talk and V.I. Warshawski.


Saving Grace
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released 1988
Genre Pop, film music
Producer Marc Shaiman
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars link[dead link]

Music from the Motion Picture album[edit]

Track Listing

  1. Steve Winwood — "Higher Love" (Steve Winwood, Will Jennings)
  2. “Little Ole Lady” (Richard Wilbur, Marc Shaiman)
  3. Benny Goodman — "Sing, Sing, Sing" (Louis Prima)
  4. Pennies from Heaven" (Johnny Burke, Arthur Johnston)
  5. George Benson — “On Broadway" (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil)
  6. The Trinidad Serenaders Steel Band — "Music Box Dancer" (Frank Mills)
  7. “Reilly Theme” (E. Shostakovich)
  8. "I'm in the Mood for Love" (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields)


  1. ^ "Awards for Big Business". iMDb. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  2. ^ "Big Business (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  3. ^ Benson, Sheila (June 10, 1988). "Midler, Tomlin Do a Twin Turn in 'Big Business'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  4. ^ Yagoda, Ben (June 10, 1988). "In 'Business' For Big Laughs". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 10, 1988). "A Tomlin-Midler Comedy of Errors". New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (2 May 2012). "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 31, 1987). "Review: ‘Big Business’". Variety. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Wanda' Heads Upstream". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  9. ^ "Big Business". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  10. ^ "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : 'Crocodile' Swamps 'Rambo'; Hanks' 'Big' Hit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 

External links[edit]