Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

Director: Steve Kloves


There is one scene that everyone remembers in The Fabulous Baker Boys. In it, Jeff Bridges is the smoothie tinkling the ivories while Michelle Pfeiffer is standing atop the piano in a red evening dress slit to the thigh, performing an incredibly sensual version of ‘Makin’ Whoopee’. She slinks about the grand piano lid whilst practically fellating the microphone she’s holding; Pfeiffer still looks fantastic, but this role has her at her most enticing, and it remains one of her best performances.

Does the rest of writer/director Steve Kloves’ film hold up? The story’s a little wobbly, if only because it’s been done before and since. Jack and Frank Baker (Jeff and Beau Bridges) are a cabaret act, but their act is dated and they look for a female vocal to spice it up. In slinks Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer), all pout and legs, to shake up their act. Unfortunately, Jack falls for her and the mingling of his personal and professional lives threatens the group. Big suprise(!) Still, for all the familiarity of Kloves’ plotting, The Fabulous Baker Boys remains an intensely likeable film. For starters, the three lead performances are all excellent. Pfeiffer plays Susie like she always maintaining a pretense, with only subtle hints at pain within. The Brothers Bridges have a nice dynamic, alternating between gentle ribbing and some genuine antagonism; I can’t help but feel that they brought quite a bit of their off-screen relationship to these roles. In any case, Jeff is as cool as ever and Beau makes for a believable ‘control-freak’ older brother.

The Fabulous Baker Boys boasts a classy, warm look that belies the slight cheesiness of the brothers’ cabaret act. Ranier Werner Fassbinder’s DP Michael Balhaus shoots the film with a slight warming glow; it looks comfortable and reassuring, drawing the viewer into its world. Once you’re there, Dave Grusin’s piano casts a wonderful spell to ensure that you end this film with a grin. It’s a friendly little flick that takes old rope and polishes it to a brilliant shine. It’s simply fabulous.


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