Title: The Fabulous Baker Boys
Genre: Drama, Music, Romance
Director/Writer: Steve Kloves
Music: Dave Grusin
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Writer-director Steve Kloves’ directorial debut, a jazz-infused drama-romance, under musician Dave Grunion’s precise concoction, now mostly remembered for Ms. Pfeiffer’s Oscar-calibre bravura as the escort-turned-torch-song-chanteuse Susie Diamond. Beau and Jeff Bridges, two real-life brothers play Frank and Jack Baker, aka. the Fabulous Baker Boys, two brothers-and-pianists in Seattle, make their living by performing in various lounges and bars.
For the first time in their 15-year professional career, they decide to recruit a singer to revitalise their act since the business is going downhill, there comes Susie Diamond, but, Ms. Pfeiffer is not a professional singer in reality (although she has been preparing for the role diligently), the singing voice is not her forte, in order to introduce her as the one that surpasses all other candidates, Kloves sets the ballast with a joyously motley crew of awful singers, started with Jennifer Tilly’s Monica, whose audition with her peculiar baby-like voice can bust a gut here! Thus, when Susie comes to the scene (hours later), even though her tonality is not instantly sensational (there is no A STAR IS BORN hoopla), at least she can find the right tune and more importantly, she is a natural showstopper, her sensual voice enthuses audience, her svelte figure enthrals impulse and attention, with a fitting evening dress, they can form a killing trio, for the populist taste.
Ms. Pfeiffer’s iconic rendition of MAKIN’ WHOOPEE atop of a grand piano with DP Michael Ballhaus’ camera entrancingly rotating around her, can simply bring the house down. A central through-line is the romantic vibe between Susie and Jack, the unvarying trope about sex and commitment, which doesn’t establish Susie as a woman waiting for the man to make his move or bemoaning his inaction, she feels the attraction with a man who tries very hard to be detached from the entire world, and doesn’t shy away from taking the initiative at the right time, right place. Susie pluckily takes Jack down a peg or two in his self-loathing and self-centred universe, she is empowered to liberate him, but she also doesn’t have to do so if he doesn’t realise that, and through Pfeiffer’s tour-de-force, Susie is a woman ever so confident, sexy and desirable, frankly speaking, from a more personal note, she is too good for Jack and Ms. Pfeiffer’s magnetism in unparalleled in her heyday.
Jeff Bridges’s Jack, who is the quintessence of a man who arms himself with aloofness because he has too much pride to come to terms with this unfulfilled world, he is more talented, more good-looking, also more cynical and more uncompromising than his elder brother, for him, it is always his battle against the rest of the world, and the winning sign is that he can sleep around without any pretence of commitment and play the cool unattainable object of desire, thanks to Kloves’ sober script and Jeff Bridge’s unaffected endeavour, viewers can totally understand Jack’s dilemma without being too judgemental, he grows extremely fatigued of the routinely middle-brow entertainment, but also too passive to pursue what he really wants (he should be adored for his faculties, instead of being stuck in a pedestrian livelihood for far too long, if in a perfect world), all he needs is a stimulant to get out of his self-inflicted carapace, he and Susie would be a good match, but more urgently, he must earn it rather than take it for granted.
Beau Bridges, who is also brilliant in his family-man amiability and flexible pragmatism, by sheer comparison, he is less charismatic than his co-stars, but he bespeaks a more mainstream attitude towards life, a respected breadwinner for his household, the part where Baker brothers finally duke it out is a heightened moment of spectacle, the accusations they deliver are unsurprisingly stale, but the way how they unbridle their yearly-accrued disgruntlement is plum theatrics.
After all, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is an appealing charmer despite of its rather simple story structure, sends off a life-affirming message without being tempering with contrived wishful fulfilment, a feat cannot always be pulled off without a level-headed decision maker behind, plus, who can resist a fully-blossoming Michelle Pfeiffer? No one can.