Year Released: 1989
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 0 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:
The first “Fabulous Baker Boys” DVD came out in 1998 and one Friday in late 2002, I was thoroughly sick of the math class I had been through at the Broward Community College Pembroke Pines campus, diagonally from the Southwest Regional library, where I spent the most time during the day. However, Fridays always made me forget the math class, and other classes, because it meant choosing movies for the weekend. I had ideas about what I wanted to see (everything) and started looking in their audio-visual section (for everything).
This method has always helped as it led to discovering films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “Metropolitan,” Whit Stillman’s engrossing examination of a few of New York’s socially elite young adults. So while pushing aside the few DVDs that the library had at the time, thinking about how many dramas I was in the mood for, and how many comedies, I found “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges together, and with Michelle Pfeiffer. And since Jeff Bridges was, and still is, one of my favorite actors, why not?
And how different this was, discovering a film I never knew about, not even in all that I read about the movies in various books, an experience that always makes moviegoing and watching movies at home the infinite treasure hunt that it is. The atmosphere was the first treasure, Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography that makes Seattle as alive as the characters, as active as their desires. The opening scene sees Jack Baker (Jeff Bridges) off to another night of work at another hotel in front of another piano, playing opposite his brother, as they have done for the past 15 years, 300 shows a year. 4500 shows thus far and counting.
Jack smokes and lets Frank (Beau Bridges) do the talking while he goes through the motions. That’s all there is, because there’s cash at the end. A job’s a job. What there is in that scene of Jack walking isn’t just the lights of Seattle, but the feeling of an entire city, of everyone doing whatever they do, and the sun rises, and sets, and the cycle continues, the same cycle for others as it is for Jack. All that makes his life just a little different is his 12-year-old neighbor Nina (Ellie Raab), whose offscreen mother moves from one man to another, and his black Labrador, Ed.
Writer/director Steve Kloves (this was his first film) keeps his characters grounded as people, most important, because when something witty comes out of their mouths, it’s just a part of who they are, not Kloves writing it just to be smart about something, though he is, very much so, and his latest endeavor in his screenwriting career, adapting the Harry Potter books (except for “Order of the Phoenix”) continues to show how attuned he is toward what he writes. Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), in her audition to be a singer for the act, mentions that for the past couple of years, she’s been “on call for the AAA escort service.” But there’s no heart of gold. There’s just a heart, one that keeps Jack at highway’s length, merely working with him at first, but soon enough the attraction happens, though in an atypical way because these two are atypical. It’s not easy and it’s not love because this isn’t the kind of movie for that.
There’s more to Frank too, whose decision on finding a singer brought about Susie, because 15 years of dual pianos isn’t bringing in as much business now as they had before. He’s all about the business side because he has a wife and kids who rely on him, and he makes it known to Jack, subtly, when he blows up at him for getting closer to Susie because “you’ve got two shows a night with her!” Any conflict that can develop between the people doing the business, especially a business with a nightly audience, makes the business bad, makes the people doing the hiring be more wary about hiring them, and then what? Or does Frank see what Jack is doing as what he couldn’t do in his own life and regrets it? He’s the responsible one while Jack lives alone and goes to a jazz club called “Henry’s,” where his dreams are. Kloves and both Bridges men present these two in distinctly watchable ways, a character study that emphasis the thinking part.
The most notable moment in the film, as mentioned elsewhere, is when Susie breathily sings “Makin’ Whoopee” on top of a black grand piano, decked out in a slinky red dress, her voice amused at each situation in the song. It’s a good song, and I like the scene, as with many other scenes in the film, and if the film should be noticed more, then that’s the way to start but I don’t agree with it as the most notable. To me, the most notable is during Susie’s audition when she sings “More Than You Know” and Pfeiffer’s voice goes straight to the heart numerous times. And Jennifer Tilly in two brief appearances can’t be forgotten either, the kind of auditioner that would make American Idol less painful to watch.
That first time seeing this has bloomed into numerous viewings, mainly through the DVD first found at the library, and then through Netflix, the same DVD from Live/Artisan that includes an audio commentary by DP Ballhaus and on-screen production notes, but it’s fairly certain now that the commentary will disappear because of what’s been decided by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, releasing the film on DVD through the MGM label.
The commentary hasn’t been carried over (unfortunately because of different companies in charge of each release), the production notes aren’t there and most disappointing is the shameful lack of a commentary by Steve Kloves, because with this as one film worth suddenly coming upon while not specifically looking for it, a commentary by him would have been most welcome. One afternoon in a recording booth was all that it would have taken. After all, with Michelle Pfeiffer singing again in “Hairspray: The Musical” this summer, what’s the one film that a lot of critics are going to mention when they write about her vocal efforts?
Nevertheless, it’s still worth seeing “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” no matter which DVD you watch it on. I just wish that the chance had been taken in giving it more than it has gotten in the past (with the exception of the Ballhaus commentary) and it’s not likely that there’ll be another DVD release for a very long time, or even until the next format evolves.
Posted on February 9, 2007 in Reviews by Rory L. Aronsky
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