Whenever anyone—a stranger at a party, a girlfriend with whom I’m so close our cycles are synched—asks me for an all-ages family movie recommendation, my first reply is always the same: Big Business (1988)! For years, I implored the uninitiated to subscribe to Netflix DVD or shell out for an online rental to get the goods. But now, praise be to Disney+, the world’s best nature-versus-nurture comedy is available for “free” on one of the major streaming services.
Big Business is the story of two sets of identical twins—one of which is born to rich, big city parents; the other, poor farm folk—who are mixed up at birth by a batty old nurse in the town of Jupiter Hollow’s rinky-dink hospital. The country parents (the Ratliffs) overhear the urbane parents (the Sheltons) naming their girls Rose and Sadie and they follow suit. The following 80 minutes (remember when all movies weren’t at least a half an hour too long) are a rapid-fire showcase for two of the funniest women who’ve ever set foot on screen: Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. In both mismatched pairs, Bette plays Sadie and Lily plays Rose. Also in both, the sister raised by her birth parents is the alpha, while the switched sister feels amiss. Forty years later, the Shelton-controlled conglomerate, Moramax, is selling the furniture factory it owns in Jupiter Hollow, threatening the hamlet’s livelihood. All four ladies’ paths ultimately cross in New York City, where the Ratliffs have travelled to STOP THE SALE!!
If you are sitting here thinking, Rachel, I’m a little confused! that’s one of the perks of this film. Big Business will keep your children’s attention as they follow the just-complex-enough plot. Meanwhile, grownups will appreciate the madcap performances; the corporate ’80s New York replete with limos, room service, serious shoulder pads, looooong and shiiiiny conference tables, and infinite other greed-is-good-era details; and the on-their-game supporting cast, which includes the always-excellent Mary Gross (Troop Beverly Hills, we’re coming for you soon!), Fred Ward as a mini-golf pro, and a pint-sized Seth Green. Oh, and for all you soft-rock nostalgics out there, “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood caps the soundtrack. Are you sold yet?