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Fabulous Baker Boys, The (Blu-ray Review)

10 Aug, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’
Stars Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Beau Bridges, Jennifer Tilly.

A movie that was ultimately “made” by VHS after multiplex dunces ignored it in theaters, writer-director Steve Kloves’ close-to-unique sibling-rivalry story (but a blonde difference) hasn’t lost a beat — though as Kloves himself suggests on a most rewarding commentary here with Twilight Times’ Nick Redman ad Julie Kirgo, youth audiences of today would probably think the story takes too long to unreel (as, no doubt, they’re text-messaging about going to the nearest mall’s earring kiosk after the show).

Kloves says he got the idea from his memories of tuxedoed Ferrante & Teicher, who had a brief vogue as a kind of Marv Johnson alternative on United Artists’ record label in the very early 1960s with their hit dueling-piano movie themes from The Apartment, Exodus and (to a lesser extent in sales) One-Eyed Jacks. They easily rounded out the guest pool on TV variety shows of the day, and for all their square-ness, their hits remain memorable recordings. But what if, instead, these BB prototypes were also brothers and second-tier performers — and not just second-tier by New York or Los Angeles standards but a rung or so down in a lesser market (in this case, Seattle)? Well, folks, meet Jack (Jeff Bridges) and Frank (played by real-life brother Beau) Baker.

Younger Jack is the more talented one, who, even as a kid, could play a given tune without much study. Frank had to work at it much harder and still bears life’s burden, given that he does all the booking, accounting and accompanying grunt work it takes to place even a relatively simple act as theirs in all those Holiday Inns — and this atop a family, a mortgage and car payments while Jack spends all his time tomcatting. You can see why Frank might be hacked.

On the other hand, Frank’s on-stage patter for the salad-bar clientele would be cornball even by 1936 standards, and lately, the act has suffered the indignity of having one proprietor pay them not to perform. With time something less than on their side, the decision is made to hire a female vocalist — and the one they pick (out of thirty-some rival contenders, all awful) is a stunner who can really put over a song (Michelle Pfeiffer). She is also rough around the edges — having been previously employed by an escort service (probably also second-tier) and the type who has to take the gum out of her mouth before she begins singing.

The rest of what then becomes a predominantly three-character movie deals with the tinderbox dynamics between the brothers (now with an added catalyst) and between a single guy and his worn-but-attractive new close-quarters acquaintance who keep sizing each other up in not always healthy ways. Singer Susie (that’s Susie Diamond, a name we sense wasn’t on her birth certificate) is the better one at doing this because she has seen Jack’s type of sullen bravado too many times. Jack saves his good side, which emerges only occasionally, for a pet lab with bad teeth and a neighbor girl he usually, but not always, treats kindly when he’s off the road and back in his dilapidated apartment (which would probably sell for a ton today).

As it turned out, Pfeiffer could really sing (or well enough) and even got some spinoff recording offers that she turned down. For a movie that audiences didn’t support in theaters (it came out the same day as Look Who’s Talking) her performance was a sensation, and the only best actress honor she didn’t win for ’89 was the Oscar that went to Jessica Tandy for the thoroughly pleasant Driving Miss Daisy, which also won best picture in a year when Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated. Or to be more specific, Pfeiffer was voted best actress by the National Society of Film Critics; the critics’ organizations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review. She was even nominated by the “American Comedy Awards, USA” for the year’s “funniest actress” — and it is true that if you look at it in a certain way, the film can be taken as a comedy (and even if you don’t, there are a lot of laughs).

For a movie with such a strong script, Kloves lucked out by getting Michael Ballhaus as cinematographer, who won a couple year-enders here himself. Because so much of the story takes place at night or indoors, this disc probably wouldn’t be an automatic choice for a “demonstration” forum, but his contribution comes through, and some of the performing scenes are luminous But I wish some of the praise had been spread around a little more toward brother Beau’s way because too often he never got the roles he deserved, even if there can’t be a person alive who could ever deny that he nailed this one. As for Jeff, he’s had to have made more cult movies than anyone all the way back to Fat City and Bad Company — and, baby, this is not only one of them but way up there on the list.

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