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USA 1989
Directed by
Steve Kloves
113 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Jeff Bridges is a self-loathing jazz pianist, Jack Baker, one half of a  lounge piano duo with his brother, Frank (Beau Bridges). After years of the same tired act they are struggling to find anyone who will pay them. In fact they actually get paid, NOT to play. Frank suggests that they should find a singer and once Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) joins them the act takes off as never before. But the burgeoning sexual attraction between Susie and Jack threatens the brothers’ steady relationship.

Much like Jack, The Fabulous Baker Boys is a moodily laconic, slow-moving story that will please audiences who like films about backstage show business and the people who as Irving Berlin famously out it "smile when they are down". And there’s plenty of that sort of thing here.  Rather than pursue his art, Jack has resigned himself to being Frank’s accompanist, Frank is constantly trying to put a brave face on their sad lot and Suzie Is a former hooker who has lost all illusions about love. Well, almost…

Neatly written by debut director Steve Kloves the film captures well the dynamic between the brothers and the disruption that comes with the arrival of a talented and sexy female, a disruption that comes to a head with a smokin’ hot version of ‘Makin' Whoopee’ (Pfieffer does all of her own singing, the Bridges do a pretty good job of keyboard miming).  In between the cheesy MOR covers there are moments of tasty jazz piano in a smoke-filled boîte where we see the real Jack emerge.

In roles that were offered to the Quaid brothers (and before them Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, though clearly someone had seen Ishtar (1987) the Bridges have an easy rapport that both convinces and charms while Pfieffer’s Suzie projects just the wary toughness and sexual allure needed to vitalize the brothers' comfortable routine. 

At times the film feels a little slow and the general narrative theme of a hack artist committing to his genius thanks to the love of a good woman is hardly new but with a solid script, three strong performances and everything dressed up by Michael Ballhaus's rich cinematography The Fabulous Baker Boys is a tidy diversion.




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