THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (Steve Kloves, 1989)

Fabulous isn’t the word for The Fabulous Baker Boys, a tinny, smutty “entertainment” about the double piano lounge act of two Seattle-based brothers, Jack and Frank Baker, that takes on a jazzy chanteuse to bolster their sagging appeal. Susie Diamond, otherwise a Holly Golightly in terms of employment, reawakens younger brother Jack’s love of serious music; Jack has suppressed his genuine musical gifts to accommodate his older brother’s musical vulgarity, sacrificing his life, more or less, to help provide income for his married brother. Frank, meanwhile, believes he is carrying Jack, whom he is fond of addressing as “Little Brother,” and handles bookings and business, sometimes carelessly. Meanwhile meanwhile, Jack, who has a young daughter, beds with waitresses in a series of one-night stands. He is musically frustrated, you see. Onstage, Frank is outgoing though yukky; Jack, tight-lipped and tense, even contemptuous of Frank. Offstage, Jack has sex twice with Susie, despite his brother’s admonition not to go there because of the work arrangement, and, when Susie asserts her intelligence in a conversation with him, delivers the nastiest line of dialogue I have ever heard: “I didn’t know that whores are so philosophical.” I don’t care much for either Baker boy.
     There are all sorts of holes to be found. For one, Michelle Pfieffer, who plays Susie, cannot sing, and the discrepancy between her labored attempts to do so and how wonderful a singer everyone in the film thinks she is irritates. Since Pfieffer cannot act either, the only reason for her being in the film is the enticement of that “Diamond” between her long, luscious legs. It is impossible for me to believe that anyone could be as stupid as Frank; how can he not know why his brother is the way that he is? And how has Jack, whom we can see is smart, gotten into the hole that he has? A Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?-flashback might have helped.
     Beau Bridges is messy as Frank; brother Jeff, superficial, as ever, as Jack. But Jennifer Tilly, Meg’s sister, is a little bit of heaven as a waitress who tries out for the singing job that Susie gets.
     Writer-director Steve Kloves has since moved on to where his “talent” is really needed: writing Harry Potter movies.


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