The Fabulous Baker Boys
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Susie Diamond
- Jeff Bridges as Jack Baker
- Beau Bridges as Frank Baker
An enchanting comedy-drama of music, family and dreams, The Fabulous Baker Boys provides laughs and pathos with a fine trio of central performances by Jeff and Beau Bridges, and especially the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer.
Jack and Frank Baker are the eponymous, travelling musical duo; piano playing brothers who perform regularly and are opposites in almost every way. While older brother Frank is the responsible sibling who is always organised, Jack is a sometimes sullen man who has grown tired of their long running act despite being the more talented one. With business slipping and them having to perform in less than glamorous lounges as a second-rate act, both are feeling the strain of what their careers have become. Frank enjoys his music and does it to support his family, while Jacks feels the emptiness of it all. They have the idea to audition a female singer, to breathe some life into their act and hopefully drum up some business. The first few ladies they get are all pretty bad and it looks like the guys will just have to continue their act just the way it is. That is until former escort Susie Diamond walks in to audition, even though she’s an hour age a half late. Gorgeous, witty and with a take no bull honesty, she wins Jack and Frank over when she starts to sing. Now feeling a bit more rejuvenated, the group begins experiencing success with Susie as the star attraction. But with the success comes doubt and frustration, as Frank becomes concerned that Jack is romantically pursuing Susie. He worries that this will jeopardize all of them if everything gets too personal, and sure enough it does. This throws a spanner in the works and as both of them having to deal with dormant feelings of being failures and still trying to go on. While on the road touring, the dynamics of the brothers change as both, along with Susie, have to contend with disillusionment and the wanting for something more in their lives.
Steve Kloves both writes and directs this beguiling and elegant piece of film. And considering it was the first movie he directed, his inexperience doesn’t show. In fact, the easy confidence and attention to character are spectacularly done, displaying his gift for letting his actors do their thing and not being overly flashy with overt style. Kloves sprinkles an Old Hollywood feeling to the work, that’s mixed with a contemporary sensibility and nuanced depth. Comedic moments abound, with the crackling screenplay firing zingers throughout, while balancing the character’s shaky relationships and desires. Laughs and sadness seem to go hand in hand in The Fabulous Baker Boys, making it a whole experience. The occasional meandering moment can be ignored because of how well-defined and invested the characters are, plus the fact that we do like watching their wishes and dashed dreams unfold. As music is a big part of it, The Fabulous Baker Boys doesn’t disappoint on that score. And what beautiful music it is! Silky smooth jazz grooves and slinky torch songs, lend both a sexiness and melancholy to the overall picture. And speaking of sexiness, I can’t review The Fabulous Baker Boys and not mention it’s most famous scene. In it, Susie, clad in a figure hugging, red dress, lounges across the piano and sings ‘Makin Whoopee’. Backed by the impressively warm and sultry cinematography that hovers over everything, it’s a sizzling high point of a fantastic movie.
While it is The Fabulous Baker Boys who have the title, the film really is a show for the talents of Michelle Pfeiffer. As the effervescent Susie, she displays a whole multitude of sides and angles that are natural and convincing( plus showcasing some gorgeous vocals). She’s tough yet vulnerable, hardened but dreamy and both nervous and seductive. Pfeiffer completely owns the role with a deft assurance. It’s a plum role for any actress, but Pfeiffer makes it so you can’t imagine anyone else playing it except her. For my money, this is one of the finest hour’s from one of my favourite actresses. Ably complimenting Pfeiffer’s excellence are the eponymous duo, envisioned by real life siblings Jeff and Beau Bridges. The chalk and cheese nature of the characters is nicely observed through the work of them both; Jeff’s charm and quietly seething demeanor as Jack counteracted by the more savvy but fussy personality displayed by Beau as Frank . I really got into their bond that they shared, which while shaky and volatile, still had a depth of heart ever-present. Being real life brothers obviously lends itself excellently to the often volatile relationship of the duo. The chemistry is natural and when the deeper feelings emerge, it’s intriguing to ponder whether it is just acting or something much more personal. Whatever the view, the Bridges Brothers bounce off one another effortlessly, while highlighting a certain weariness and quiet rivalry.
A slice of life drama and comedy, that has sparkling dialogue and an undercurrent of wistfulness, The Fabulous Baker Boys is sublime entertainment, well performed and nicely crafted.