That time Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin did The Comedy of Errors…
I don’t have anything against her, you understand. Certainly not the blazing hatred that burns in my heart for Barbara Streisand.
And truth to tell, I like a lot of movies that Bette Midler happens to be in: Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune… Hell, where Hocus Pocus is concerned I can’t even drink anything when it’s on because Kathy Najimy makes me snork it through my nose. Even Sarah Jessica Parker makes me chuckle uncontrollably in that one (and when in the last 20 years could you say that about her, unrelated to something completely ridiculous she was wearing on “Sex and the City”?).
But Bette… I mean, I know everybody just loves Bette, but… awww, shucks, she just doesn’t do it for me. Lily Tomlin is just more my cup of tea. She’s great in everything. I mean, everything. Miss Frizzle, amirite? That episode of “Homicide” she did? And have you even seen “Web Therapy“? Spoiler alert: You should.
There’s this marvelous little farce from 1988 with the infuriatingly generic title Big Business, a modernization of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as two sets of identical twins who, through a chance encounter, are mismatched at birth and go on to live with wildly opposite sets of parents, and who, through another incredible twist of fate, wind up both being named Rose and Sadie. One set grows up in the care of a wealthy titan of industry, ultimately settling in New York City; the other set grows up with dirt-poor farmers and lives in a nowhere country town, but each one of the misplaced twins feels, somehow, that they are missing out on something essential in their lives. They won’t know for certain, however, until circumstances conspire to have the two sets of twins encounter each other again 40 years later, setting into motion an absurd variety of mistaken identities, slapstick misunderstandings, romantic entanglements, and social calamities.
This is the movie where I ‘get’ the thing about Bette Milder being charming and funny and such, because it’s not really a great movie, but it is still hilarious watching her play the sarcastic high-powered bloodsucking corporate executive Sadie Shelton versus Sadie Ratliff, the wide-eyed country bumpkin with aspirations of citified “Dynasty”-style glamour and sophistication. Of course, it’s a given that Lily Tomlin is fabulous both as Rose Ratliff, a hard-nosed hayseed activist determined to save her hometown from the ravages of corporate shenanigans, and her big-city counterpart, the flighty, compassionate, lovelorn Rose Shelton. There’s a fantastic group of actors backing them up – Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Michele Placido, and Barry Primus make up a quartet of mix-n-match love interests, a young Seth Green runs riot as a Rambo-obsessed brat, and great comedy character actors like Roy Brocksmith and Edward Herrmann fill out the supporting cast.
Let me be clear. Loose reworking of The Comedy of Errors or not, this ain’t Shakespeare. This ain’t even 9 to 5. There’s a lot of stale jokes that would set the movie firmly in dud territory if they had to survive on their own merits. There’s a lot of contrived situations that you just have to see coming a mile off – when city Sadie, for example, starts getting romantic and racy with an Italian businessman, is there any doubt that the poor fellow will encounter innocent country Sadie minutes later and wind up utterly confused? Of course not. And look – if country Rose had stepped out of that hotel room just two seconds sooner, she would have totally bumped right into city Rose, which would have been hilarious, because think about it! TWO of them! Oh, how we laughed!
Yeah, it’s all pretty thin, resting entirely on the ability of the two lead actresses to pump enough life and personality into it to carry it off. So I guess it’s a good thing that they didn’t get Shelley Long and Sally Kellerman. But at the end of the day, this is a rather congenial and inoffensive comedy of the type that they used to make all the time in the heyday of cable tv, until the mid-nineties or so, when somebody somewhere decided at the dawn of the internet age that silly little comedies needed to become grosser and raunchier, and suddenly there was no more room, or money, for movies like Moving Violations or Feds – remember Feds?
Posted on July 5, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged 1980s, Bette Midler, Comedy, farce, Fred Ward, identical twins, Lily Tomlin, mistaken identity, Reviews, William Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.