Monday, April 11, 2005

Pauline Kael

“In 1938, when I was a student at Berkeley, I laughed so hard at Harry Ritz playing a hillbilly in Kentucky Moonshine that I fell off the theatre seat. (My date said he would take me to anything else but never to another movie. He became a judge.) I think I might have fallen off my seat again at Big Business when Bette Midler appeared as a hillbilly girl in a filly short skirt and petticoats, milking a cow and yodelling, if the damn-fool moviemakers hadn't cut away in the middle of her song. Later in the movie, after Midler has come to New York City, she encounters a steel-drum band near Fifth Avenue and, ecstatic, begins to yodel again. Once more, the moviemakers cut to some stupid story point. Midler is far more free and inspired here than she was in Outrageous Fortune or Ruthless People. Every time she enters, she blows everything else away. But she has to do it in quick takes.Error! Reference source not found.

“…. Midler breezes through, kicking one gong after another. Tomlin's two Roses have virtuous impulses, while Midler--as both Sadies--is pure appetite. Sadie Ratliff is the most recognizably human of comic creations--a supplicant abasing herself before the world's goodies. She watches Dynasty over and over, and dreams of being Alexis; her eyes dance when she looks in Cartier's windows. Midler, who wrote a children's book about a little girl whose first word is "More!," makes Sadie Ratliff's hankering for luxuries palpable--it's her soul's need. Midler plays this scruffy Sadie as a warmhearted chickabiddy, and she plays rich Sadie as a lusty shrew who has developed a taste for power. (Maybe it's only in a twins story that a performer gets the chance to be both sweetly money-hungry and monstrously money-hungry.)

“Midler rescues scenes by using her clothes as props: when Sadie the mogul of Moramax flips up her collar, the gesture bespeaks perfect self-satisfaction. (Chaplin did this sort of thing, and he didn't do it better.) And her snooty asides are terrific: this gorgon keeps her best lines to herself. The film often looks third class, and the plot keeps conking out, but its climax… is a visual brain-twister…. And Midler is a classic figure--a grinning urchin out of Volpone. Her appetite is the audience's appetite. It's as if she and we were passing a flask of euphoria back and forth. More!”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, June 27, 1988
Hooked, pp 483-485

David Denby

“The movie's dumb-farce premise is so convoluted that you waste a good part of your energy just figuring out which sister you are looking at. This is not the fault of the actresses, who are both wonderful in each of their two parts. Midler is particularly funny as the bored country girl who longs for the New York high life and who, when she gets to the city, receives each bauble of luxury--a room at the Plaza, a dress, a kiss from a handsome man--with a small shiver of ecstasy. Midler shifts her abundant flesh with the speed of a dancer--she's become a more volatile version of Mae West. Tomlin has her best moments as the dithering, unwilling corporate executive [I disagree there]…. But Big Business is the kind of mechanical comedy that flees from creativity as from a plague….”

David Denby
New York, June 20, 1988


Bette Midler
Big Business 1988

Get Quentin Crisp, others