Fabulous Bridges Boys Make “Baker” CompellingJune 6, 2014
They conduct their careers on the margins, present but not really there. Working musicians who have as much training as any star with a recording contract, the bands who play lounges, weddings and public ceremonies play on in hopes of a big break that probably will never come. What keeps them going to these jobs?
These small-time musical groups do not seem a promising subject for a movie, yet ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ proves the opposite to be the case. Writer-director Steve Kloves’s story of sibling rivalry and dreams deferred succeeds as an involving drama. With the help of brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges in the title roles, Kloves has crafted a moving story that will not allow viewers to see the guy playing piano in a bar quite the same way again.
Frank Baker (Beau Bridges) and his little brother Jack (Jeff Bridges) have been playing piano together for 31 years. This would-be Ferrante and Teicher has never been able to escape the bars and hotels of their hometown, Seattle, in all that time. All their years together have made the act stale. Things get so bad that they even get paid to not play. Something has to change.
The Bakers hit on a solution: hire a female singer to jazz up the act. A hilarious montage shows that the Pacific Northwest to be no hotbed of feminine musical talent. Then Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. A foul-mouthed, wisecracking woman whose only show business experience is two years on call at the AAA Escort Service, Susie unexpectedly reveals a dynamite set of pipes. Despite her lack of a suitable wardrobe, she becomes the newest member of the act.
Soon the group’s bookings are picking up. The Boys enjoy the novel sensation of audiences enthusiastically listening to them-and to Susie. Without trying to do so, she comes between the brothers. Jack has long chafed under the control of the business-minded but less-talented Frank. Susie brings out his long-dormant ambitions to play jazz piano. At the same time, she challenges him in a way none of his many one-night stands has done. When they are forced to play a show without Frank, they face a moment of truth that will have repercussions for the group and for them.
This is the first time Jeff and Beau Bridges have worked together in a movie. Given their show-biz roots, one suspects they wanted to wait for the right project to do so. This film proves their judgment to be impeccable. The Bakers offer both actors meaty roles that they attack with relish. As Jack, Jeff plays a burnout case content to glide through life without any effort. His low-key acting style serves to heighten the drama of his transformation into a man willing to make commitments in his music and personal life.
Frank does not seem at first glance to be a sympathetic character. A relatively talent-free pianist who dominates his brother, he even uses spray-paint hair before going on stage. Still, Beau reveals the broken dreams and disappointment that led him to his current status in life. Wthe Baker brothers finally speak to each other as fellow musicians, the audience sees the value of casting a real-life set of brothers in the title roles.
None of this would work without a strong performance from Pfeiffer. Her Susie demonstrates a strong desire to change her life that has as powerful an impact on the viewer as it does on Jack. Also, in a show-stopping performance of ‘Makin’ Whoopie,’ Pfeiffer, not known as a singer, demonstrates a real way with an old standard. A first-time director, Kloves uses location shots well. The film makes Seattle, playing itself here, look like a place where dreams can go to die or be reborn. The wisdom of setting this story outside of New York or Los Angeles is never in doubt under his skilled handling of his cast and story.
‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ effectively establishes the gulf between show-business ambitions and the reality of living in the shadows of those dreams. This movie’s wonderful combination of story, director and cast creates a moving story that will thrill audiences.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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