The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for crude humor
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Beau Bridges, Ellie Raab, Xander Berkeley, Jennifer Tilly
Director: Steven Kloves
Screenplay: Steven Kloves
Review published May25, 2004
Two brothers, Frank and Jack Baker (played by real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges), have spent the last 15 years playing gigs together at various lounges as the Fabulous Baker Boys, a two-man pianist act. Although they have managed to never have needed a day job, the gigs have been growing more difficult to come by, as their style of music has become a bit passť for today's audiences. They decide that they can spice up the act by adding an additional female vocalist, and they pin their hopes on former escort Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer, What Lies Beneath), and find that they are a hit once again. However, as they begin to tour more venues, Jack begins to crack under pressure, one old and one new. He has been struggling with the rigidity of the act, wanting to do something different, while an impending fling with the new singer may spell ruin for the long-running act.
At its core, The Fabulous Baker Boys is a small-time story, not unlike many you've seen in the movies before regarding artists struggling with whether to apply their craft for commercial gain or artistic merit. As written and directed by Steve Kloves (screenwriter for Wonder Boys and the Harry Potter films), this has the look and feel of A-grade entertainment all of the way. Much of this is due to the perfect chemistry of the Bridges Brothers, who actually learned the hand movements for the songs they were to play just for the movie, and the nicely delivered songs from Pfeiffer, who does all of her own singing here. They elevate the slight film into something substantial.
Rounding out the quality of the film is the gorgeous music by longtime composer, Dave Grusin (The Firm, Three Days of the Condor), and the sublime cinematography by Michael Ballhous (Goodfellas, Gangs of New York). Working in unison, they work magic in making Los Angeles feel like a gritty but cool city to play jazz in at night, and the mundane proceedings feel classy, and occasionally profound.
This is the film that contains the classic scene of Michelle Pfeiffer in a red dress laying on top of the piano, belting out the standard, "Makin' Whoopee", and there are several other moments that make this a worthwhile watch for those who enjoy thoughtful fare with lots of good music. It's an efficiently made film made by consummate professionals, and for a night of quality sights, sounds, and good performances, the price of the rental should be well worth it.
©2004 Vince Leo